Manorexia alert: Are men starving themselves to become thin?

  • Shara Ashraf, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 19, 2015 19:51 IST

Girls, you are not alone in the cruel world of body myths and evasive perfection. Someone's having it worse. For ages, women have tormented themselves to meet the pressure of looking picture perfect, right from starving to going under the knife in a bid to conform to what's desirable and trendy.

Now, men want to be perfect, too, and they want it really badly. And perfection, in the current scheme of things, equals thin. In a worrying trend, a growing number of men are going for days without food to become skinny. Male anorexia, or 'manorexia' as it has been dubbed, is a life threatening eating disorder that's affecting millions of young men across the world.

"Both psychological research and clinical practice have shown a 40% increase in manorexia in the recent years. A few years ago, we hardly came across any manorexic patient. However, nowadays I get to see at least five patients in a month who are manorexic," says psychologist Pulkit Sharma.
While the influence of good looking male models is pushing men to crazy limits to lose weight, there may be other deeper causes behind it which set the stage for eating disorders.

"Many men struggle with intense emotions due to experiences like abuse, bullying and emotional deprivation. They become preoccupied with imaginary defects in their body. This makes them feel in control," says Sharma.

"Parents having unrealistic expectations from children, and traumatic events like sexual, physical or emotional abuse also worsen the disorder," says fitness expert Prachi Agarwal, who observes a shocking rise in the cases of male anorexics in the recent years.

Defeating manorexia
The biggest challenge of this fast growing disorder is that the diagnosis is hard and finding treatment is even harder. Despite alarming stats, people continue to believe that anorexia is associated with waifish teenage girls. Male anorexia is one of the least talked about disorders. Also, there aren't many experts in India who specialise in treating male anorexia.

A victim of manorexia

Diet rehab
Seek help from a psychotherapist who specialises in the treatment. Also go for diet rehabilitation, which means getting a diet expert to create a calorie based program that helps you eat right. It starts with minimum calories and then gradually increases calories over a period of time. It is a long drawn process but can be very effective in the long run.

Akash's story
Four months ago, Akash Goel (name changed), a 22-year-old student started worrying about excessive fat on his chest. He suspected that he was suffering from gynecomastia (male breast) and went to see a plastic surgeon who refused him surgery. However, Akash remained preoccupied. He exercised rigorously (4 hours of intense cardio every day) and limited his food intake to 500 calories. Despite losing a lot of weight, he felt that there was fat on his chest. Akash wanted a sculpted chest and felt 'hollow and incomplete' without it.

"I started using a laxative to shed fat. My life centered on improving my physique. I felt that I was no good and no girl would like me," he says. Akash has been showing signs of improvement after therapy.

Fashion's thin-spiration
While most women would probably vote for the conventional male physical ideal: broad, bulky and strong, thanks to loads of thin-spiration from the fashion world, the skinny man has suddenly become sexy, promoting a distorted body image. From the ever shrinking waist sizes to slim cuts to that model on the global ramp who looks like an underfed sixteen something with his toothpick legs, sunken cheeks and visible rib cage, everyone's glorifying skinny. No wonder the thin man propaganda has seeped into the mainstream, making manorexia a serious cause of concern for health experts across the world.

In 2010, British mannequin company Rootstein launched male mannequins with 27inch waists and 35inch chests. The Homme Nouveau mannequins were severely criticised, as experts feared that they would encourage men to starve.

There's hope
Some two years ago, 22-year-old Danny Walsh from UK became obsessed with weight loss while striving to become the best football player. He shrunk to a shocking 30 kg. He decided to take charge of his life and beat anorexia. He went for diet rehabilitation and took up body building to gain weight. The 24-year-old now weighs 63 kg, and makes sure to meet his daily nutritional needs.

Do you know a manorexic?
* Watch out for these symptoms:
* Extreme dissatisfaction with one's body image
* Obsession with plastic surgery
* Excessive preoccupation with improving physique through diet, exercise and use of laxatives
* Fatophobia: the constant fear of putting on weight
* Believing that some body parts (abdomen, chest and hips) have excessive fat deposits
* Low self-confidence, sadness and anxiety
* Low body weight
* Feeling that one is no good, withdrawing from society. Feeling extremely helpless and hopeless.

Manorexics often become obsessed with surgeries in order to get a sculpted body. Rodrigo Alves from UK, dubbed as Human Ken, recently revealed that teasing for his 'breasts' made him go for surgical sculpting to look 'perfect'. Alves has had 30 surgeries, piling up an expense of Rs19 crore.

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