For years, women who have been striving to have the perfect body are known to also suffer from eating disorders. Now, a similar phenomenon appears to be happening with men.
Findings of a new study reveal that some men who work out use over-the-counter supplements to the point that it already harms their physiological and emotional health. Researchers said that the practice could qualify as a new form of eating disorder.
For the new study, which was presented at the American Psychological Association's annual convention in Toronto on Thursday, Richard Achiro, a psychotherapist from Los Angeles, and colleagues involved 195 men who were between 18 and 65 years old.
The participants go to the gym at least twice per week and regularly take appearance or performance-enhancing supplements that include the likes of L-carnitine, whey protein and creatine.
The researchers found that over 40 percent of these men increased their use of supplements over time and that one in every five of them replaced their regular meals with dietary supplements that are not intended as meal replacements.
Three percent of the men also reported having been hospitalized because of liver or kidney problems that are associated with their use of the supplements.
Gymgoers who abuse whey protein and similar supplements also have increased risks of other health problems such as body dysmorphic disorder, a condition previously referred to as reverse anorexia.
The researchers likewise found that the participants who inappropriately used dietary supplements have increased odds for behaviors associated with eating disorders. Those who abuse supplements were also more likely to feel conflict in gender role, which suggests that there is underlying insecurity.
"What this is really about is what the body represents for these men. It seems that the findings in part [show] this is a way of compensating for their insecurity or low self-esteem," Achiro said.
The participants were asked to answer questionnaires about their use of the supplements, their self-esteem, eating habits, body image and gender roles and their responses revealed that men are using supplement for many similar reasons why women turn to eating disorders anorexia or bulimia.
Experts advised consulting a nutritionist prior to starting use of supplements because some of the ingredients used can be unhealthy. They also advised using supplements in moderation.
"A supplement or a vitamin that you buy can fill in a gap, but it's never going replace food," said nutritionist Tamar Cohen.
Photo: David van der Mark | Flickr