Eric, a man in his 20s from Texas is 5-feet 8-inches tall and weighs only 105 pounds –- five pounds lighter than he weighed in the sixth grade.
“He basically hasn’t gained any weight in 13 years,” his mother, Mary, told ABCNews.com
“At the age of 3, he didn’t want to eat dead animals and he would only eat white rice and white bread and milk, but more and more as he got older he became more restrictive and selective in the way he would eat,” she said. “He ended up with only two or three things he would eat and he suppressed his hunger pains so much, he didn’t want to even come to dinner. Thanksgiving was horrible for him.”
Mary, who for privacy reasons, did not want to use their real names, said the family had sought help from numerous doctors who did not recognize her son had an eating disorder –- one, who even suggested he had a heart ailment.
“They basically shamed and scared him,” said Mary.
Another therapist recommended Eric to treatment centers, but one was exclusively for teens and another for only girls. So her son has not yet received a clear diagnosis, Mary said.
Even Eric, himself, has had difficulty recognizing his struggles with food.
“Part of the problem is labeling and stigma,” said his mother, who has sought help from the online forum F.E.A.S.T. (Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders). He "has never really said, 'I have a disorder.'"
Now, a small study in the journal BMJ Open confirms that the perception that anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and non-specific eating disorders like Eric’s are problems for women alone delays men getting help.
Men suffering from eating disorders can go days without eating -- purging, calorie counting, exercising and obsessively weighing in, and, like Eric, they can isolate themselves from others, the study found. Often the situation reaches a crisis point before these men get help.
“Men with eating disorders are under-diagnosed, under-treated and under-researched,” write the authors, Ulla Raianen of the University of Oxford, and Kate Hunt of the University of Glasgow.
“Our findings suggest that men may experience particular problems in recognizing that they may have an eating disorder as a result of the continuing cultural construction of eating disorders as uniquely or predominantly a female problem,” they add.
This perception has “also been embedded in clinical practice,” they note, adding that in order to improve the outlook for men with eating disorders, “early detection is imperative.”
A 2011 study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders reveals that eating disorders affect 4 million Americans and can be just as damaging to men, who seek treatment less often.
Other studies have suggested that men account for one in four cases, but the true prevalence is not known because symptoms are not always recognized, according to the British study.