There is a stark contrast between the research and published accounts reflecting women’s experiences in coping with an eating disorder in comparison to men’s narratives. Because of this, many medical and mental health providers do not consider an eating disorder as a possible diagnosis when men present with symptoms associated with an eating disorder. This notion was confirmed by Menstuff® (2012), who reported men are often not diagnosed and/or are embarrassed by being diagnosed with an eating disorder because eating disorders have become more associated with a problem women or gay men experience. Assumptions that eating disorders are a female or gay disease need to be disputed to relay the reality that eating disorders are nondiscriminatory. It is necessary to create a safe path for men to seek treatment. According to Andersen, Cohn, and Holbrook (2000), men account for one in six eating disorder cases.
The intention of this dissertation is to give voice and provide insight into the males’ experiences. The main research question of this dissertation is, “how do men make meaning, from etiology to recovery, of their experience in having an eating disorder?” The six men who participated in this dissertation research helped answer that question by telling their stories. While I cannot generalize these findings into the general male population, the stories of these six participants contributes to the literature in understanding how men experience acquiring an eating disorder, the treatment process, and the recovery/maintenance stage.
This dissertation study further explored understanding the interdependence between self-concept and eating disorders. A treatment protocol focused on treating symptoms can often threaten the psychotherapeutic relationship and prevent the patient from becoming wholly healthy. Rogers (1951) theorized that the more aware and accepting an individual is about all parts of self, the clearer, integrated, and actualized a person’s self-perception will become. A holistic approach recognizes the multidimensional overlapping of fluid energy between body, mind, and spirit and restores vitality. According to Gestalt theory, “change does not take place by trying coercion, or persuasion, or by insight, interpretation, or any other such means. Rather, change can occur when the [client] abandons, at least for the moment, what he would like to become and attempts to be what he is” (Beisser, 1970, p. 77). In other words, the potential for change occurs when individuals find compassion and acceptance for self. My findings suggest that treatment interventions, like exploring the client’s context and contact style, could assist individuals in developing a healthier self-concept whereby eating disorder symptoms would dissipate and organic self-regulating processes would be restored by way of a dialogic relationship that goes beyond correcting behavior.
Keywords: Eating Disorders, Men with Eating Disorders, Males with Eating Disorders, Self-Concept, Gestalt Approach, Holistic Approach, Qualitative, Phenomenological