Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia have long been associated with mostly female patients, but research presented at the recent American Psychological Association (APA) convention suggests a certain well-defined, largely male population also might be at risk.
Some men who engage in bodybuilding take legal, over-the-counter dietary supplements to such an extreme degree that it might qualify as an “emerging eating disorder,” according to the paper.
Keep in mind that the study sample was small, and relied on input from the subjects that couldn’t necessarily be verified.
“These products have become an almost ubiquitous fixture in the pantries of young men across the country and can seemingly be purchased anywhere and everywhere – from grocery stores to college book stores,” said Richard Achiro, Ph.D., in a news release from the APA. Achiro and a colleague at the California School of Professional Psychology conducted the research. “The marketing efforts, which are tailored to addressing underlying insecurities associated with masculinity, position these products perfectly as a ‘solution’ by which to fill a void felt by so many men in our culture.”
Once again, it appears as though manufacturers capitalize on insecurities rather than physiological evidence of a health issue to sell a “remedy” that probably no one needs.
The researchers analyzed the behavior of 195 men 18 to 65 years old who, in the previous month, had consumed legal supplements (whey protein, creatine, L-carnitine, etc.) purported to enhance appearance or physical performance. The subjects claimed to work out for fitness or appearance-related reasons at least twice a week. They completed a survey about supplement use, self-esteem, body image, eating habits and gender role conflicts.
More than 4 in 10 participants indicated that their use of supplements had increased over time; more than 1 in 5 reported that they had replaced regular meals with dietary supplements not intended to be meal replacements.
What Achiro found most alarming was that nearly 3 in 10 subjects acknowledged being concerned about their use of supplements, and 8 in 100 indicated that their physicians had advised them to cut back on or stop using supplements because of real or potential adverse side effects. Three in 100 had been hospitalized for kidney or liver problems related to their supplement use.
Like other clinically established eating disorders, the risky misuse of legal workout supplements, Achiro believes, is prompted by a combination of factors – dissatisfaction with one’s body, low self-esteem and gender role conflict. The last refers to someone’s self-perception that he’s not fulfilling society’s notion of masculinity.
“Body-conscious men who are driven by psychological factors to attain a level of physical or masculine ‘perfection’ are prone to use these supplements and drugs in a manner that is excessive and which was demonstrated in this study to be a variant of disordered eating,” Achiro said in the news release. “As legal supplements become increasingly prevalent around the globe, it is all the more important to assess and treat the psychological causes and effects of excessive use of these drugs and supplements.”
Not only are dietary supplements rife for misuse, they can cause harm from hidden ingredients and other manufacturing problems and misinformation. To learn more, read Patrick’s newsletter, “The Truth About Diet Supplements and Sports Drinks.”