Therapist: Gay Males’ “Unrealistic Expectations” Lead To Eating Disorders

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 9.01.58 AMHave you been staring into the cardboard hollows of a few too many pints of Ben & Jerry’s lately?

According to the International Journal of Eating Disorders, there is a three times greater chance for a gay man to have a clinical eating disorder than a straight man.

What’s more, the Journal states that 15 percent of gay or bi men in the U.S. have struggled with the likes of bulimia, binge eating or anorexia, and of the total number of men suffering an eating disorder, 42 percent are gay or bi.

Linda Santangelo, a psychologist who runs an eating disorder program, has her own stats to thrown in — in her experience, gay men are seven times more likely to binge eat than straight men, and twelve times more likely to purge.

She says the reason behind it is coping. Coping with discrimination, violence or rejection in response to their sexuality. Or they may just be stressed out about coming out.

While we’re sure these cases must exist, isn’t there perhaps a more obvious explanation? Gay men are more sexually objectified than straight men — for better or worse — and couldn’t the desire to be your “perfect self” lead you down a path that ends hovering over the toilet?

Chase Bannister, a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders, recently told Salon:

“The gay male community has placed unrealistic expectations upon itself. Emaciation is normal. Electing not to eat or to only drink liquids for several days has become normative. Negative comments about body weight, shape, size of ourselves or others has become a daily part of our community’s common life.”

Bannister takes this argument even wider, hypothesizing that:

Gay males have over the years been named by society as having characteristics that are effeminate in nature, which are narrated by culture as weak, which as a clinician, I find misogynistic. The result of society seeing effeminate behavior as weak is to get bulked up.

So to sum up, we’re either dealing with rejection or unsafely bulking up to subconsciously try and disprove society’s preconceptions.

Could it be that we’re just trying to get laid?


H/t: Guardian Liberty Voice

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  • robirob

    —Could it be that we’re just trying to get laid?—

    Getting laid is external approval by others and for some it’s not enough when a similar looking guy is sexually attracted to them. No, it must be someone who is ‘way out of his league’. That’s where body issues come into play.

  • bnard620

    This has to do with media and society pushing unrealistic ideals of male and female bodies. Until recently we’ve been seeing more and more of these unrealistic ideals being pushed on not just women but on men as well. It is still mainly pushed on women then anyone else, but as far as gay men the pressure seems even higher. There’s the pressure to look like the guys that are gay, in TV, in the clubs and in the porns.

  • MikeE

    One need look no further than Queerty’s daily barrage of unrealistically “perfect” images of scantily-clad men.

    Of course gay men have issues with self esteem. We keep getting told, and shown, that we simply don’t measure up to “perfection”.

  • Apparatus

    Even the skinniest and prettiest people in Hollywood or music still aren’t good enough to be on a magazine or billboard without extensive photoshopping.

    They also all travel around with professional makeup artists who can completely re-shape their face and take off years of aging, and can afford private chefs, physical trainers, home gyms, and more.

    Hell, half the men in Hollywood have also had nose jobs, extensive hair transplants or wear wigs, not to mention botox and more just to stay looking fabulous.

    And no one steps onto the red carpet without being painted, styled, and prepped either.

    The sooner people realize this and stop trying to look like an advertisement the better. Just be the best you can be without hurting yourself or trying to attain a fantasy.

  • viveutvivas

    So “emaciation is normal” or “bulking up” is normal? Which is it?

    I never see any anorexic gay men around here, so I would question the “emaciation is normal” claim. And as far as bulking up, in this part of the world that is mainly a straight thing – I wish more gay guys would become a bit more familiar with the inside of a gym.

  • MikeE

    @viveutvivas: and THAT is exactly the type of attitude that pushes others to have self-esteem problems.

    Why do you fu**ing care whether others go to the gym or not?

    Amazing that someone with that screen name should have such an obnoxious and elitist attitude.

  • SF Native

    I noticed on the Oscar telecast that Brad Pitt has had some under eye work done recently. The last time I saw him at a PR event he had very visible lines, bags and dark circles, now that area looks as smooth as a babies bottom.

  • Spike

    Food is so over rated.

    Tic tacs and TAB, kept a generation of super models nourished and looking fabulous.

  • toronto416

    The irony of all this is so many gay men have an eating disorder similar to most women, and then end up looking like that. Clearly, by the advertisements and the porn we consume online, as well as the men that we wish to GOD were gay, they don’t look like that. They look like straight, college-aged athletes with muscular, lean bodies that were developed starting by playing contact sports at a young age. Most gay men do not grow up playing football, hockey, lacrosse, etc. and don’t end up with a naturally muscular body. But we’d scratch each other’s eyes out to get our hands on that one straight guy who does.

    It’s really difficult because we want what we can’t have and we are repulsed/don’t care about each other. We don’t want a thin gay man who wears $1000 sunglasses, we want a straight college wrestler who wears his hat backwards and has the right cut to his sweatpants. These kinds of guys drink – and eat – all the time because they developed a body that requires that…and no matter how hard we work out or diet or artificially try to look like these guys, it’s just not gonna happen. I think that’s why so many gay men have given up on trying to find sex/relations with one another because we simply aren’t interested in other gay men – and worse – we’ve become so addicted to seeing naked young straight athletes we’ve developed an obsession where the cards are so stacked against us, that we not only won’t ever find a relationship – now we aren’t going to get laid either. No wonder there’s so much addiction and mental instability within the gay community. The fact that we couldn’t care less if one another lives or dies doesn’t help either. As a gay men you really are on your own. Those of you just coming out – you’ll find in 10 years that coming out was a waste, these men don’t care once the ‘new’ wears off and this whole marriage thing sounds awesome until you discover there are no gay men to get to know who will stick around once life gets messy, because we never have to grow up, we just go looking for something better. We don’t have kids mostly so we aren’t legally obligated to put up with each other.

    My advice to younger closeted men? Don’t waste your time. Being gay is a one-way ticket to ending up alone for the rest of your life. You can see by these comments that these men are seeking product – not people – and certainly not quality. Just keep it to yourself, stick whatever images get you off online, and avoid relationships. You will deeply regret coming out once you find out how these people treat each other over time. Sorry if that is direct and rude but it’s the truth.

  • bamboo_child


    playing devil’s advocate here. i know that we have been seeing these hot and perfect body types a lot on tv, movies, and yeah even porn. but isn’t it better than the alternative? do you want to see fat (yes, i said it) people glorified in the media? with the diabetes rate skyrocketing that costs the U.S. billions of dollars a year in health care, isn’t it better to see people who are healthy and fit and strive for that life style rather than the alternative?

    bottom line, fat is NOT okay and but at the same time hating your body isn’t either. if you don’t like the way you look, do something about it. america has a more serious problem with the obesity epidemic than men and women having self body issues.

  • Louis


    you should be ashamed of even daring to say such a thing to closeted people. No, it’s not true that all gay men end up alone and can’t support each other – there’s plenty of gay couples out there who have been together for years and even decades and do not need the patronizing, internalized homophobia you are depicting here. Yes, the gay community can be full of contradictions but if you open your eyes you’ll realize that the superficial gay men represents a very tiny percentage of the actual community. Now I hope no young distressed closeted person will ever have to meet people like you.

  • MikeE

    @bamboo_child: the issue isn’t with “fat”. The issue is unrealistic body image. There’s a major difference.

  • erikwm

    I think I have disordered eating patterns, but i’m not sure it rises to the level of an eating disorder. I’m not anorexic or bulimic, but I do binge eat. I don’t know much about binge eating disorder.

    I know I have an unrealistic body image. I can obtain my ideal, but never hold it for more than a few months at a time. In the interim between ideals, I do beat up on myself. People lavish praise on me like i’m a DaVinci’s “David” when i’m at my ideal, but it’s very hard to maintain and when I’m not at my ideal, I do feel worse about myself. I do a Herculean amount of exercise daily just to stay close to my ideal.

    I guess that doesn’t sound too good when I write it out like that. :(

  • erikwm

    @toronto416: It sounds like you’ve been hurt very deeply.

    There is some truth to what you said about body image. Guys want lean, muscular builds. I’ve never understood why gay men spend so much time worrying about fashion when what others care most about is what you look like with your clothes off.

    But as someone who works in fitness and does have that look you describe, it’s not easy to maintain. Even collegiate athletes with a certain appearance only look that way because they train very rigorously. A buddy of mine (who is straight, yes) was a collegiate runner and lifeguard. He ran upwards to 70 miles a week. He lifted weights and his body was perfect. Last spring he graduated, doesn’t run as much anymore and is no longer as lean. Sure, he’s still a good looking guy, but he’s not the picture of perfection he used to be. If you don’t constantly train, you lose what you have — form follows function. It’s not impossible to obtain the look you describe, it just takes a lot of work.

    Relationships? It sounds like you’ve had a lot of bad experiences. I’m sorry it hasn’t worked out for you.

  • erikwm

    Ruh oh.

    I read the symptoms of binge eating disorder on the Mayo Clinic website and every one applies to me. I thought I binge ate because I run 50 miles a week and lift weights daily, but now i’m not so sure.


  • samwise343

    @toronto416: You are just a little ray of sunshine.

  • petensfo

    If you’re thinking you may have issues around food & body image, consider visiting They have lots of info & even on-line mtgs & discussion forums.

    I don’t think we can ever draw a line from A to B and say, this is the ultimate reason. It’s more like bricks in a wall… societal pressure, Hollywood, fashion media, peers, hook-up sites that promote a look, or just the disproportionate value we place on youth.

    But, regardless… all that’s not gonna change so you’ll need to alter your own perspective; it’s an inside job, folks. Everyone gets older & good diet, nutrition, exercise, & a little sunscreen, are going to matter a lot more than having starved yourself maintaining a look that can’t really last.

    @Toronto… seek counseling, buddy. Quick.

  • viveutvivas

    @MikE, “Why do you fu**ing care whether others go to the gym or not?”

    Uh, I want to see more healthy-looking gay men around. Do you have a problem with that?

    I am not denying that many people have problems with body image, but on the other hand, in my experience “emaciated” is the sour fat person’s word for what used to be considered normal. Go look at any stock photos of ordinary people from the 70s, 60s, 50s. By today’s obese standards, EVERYONE was “emaciated” back then.

  • soulquest7

    Funny article!

  • Niall

    @viveutvivas: Where do you live? While I don’t see “anorexic” men around me too, almost every gay man I come across on the internet and irl are pretty much obsessed with their image and visit the gym regularly to keep it up to the point of it becoming a pathetic vain obsession.

  • viveutvivas

    @Niall, New England, where it’s always covered up so nobody cares how they look, and it’s NOT pretty. :)

  • the other Greg

    @viveutvivas: Happy to TOTALLY agree with you for a change! Hey it’s over 50 degrees today – won’t be long before you can see all the tattoos on the young fat guys. (The Lena Dunham look doesn’t look good on a man, I agree.)

  • the other Greg

    @toronto416: I think you’re way over-generalizing what *everyone* considers hot or desirable. Personally I always found the “skinny nerd” type kinda hot! I always thought, hey, more for me if nobody else wants ’em.

    Is this an “internet thing”? When I was in my 20s I had plenty of problems with the coming out process and so on. But it never crossed my mind that my dating problems were all the fault of “the gay community” and I had no responsibility to change or experiment.

    Now with the magical internet available it seems that, rather than actually do anything in their personal lives, there are guys like you whose automatic reaction to dating adversity is to type plaintive posts on gay blogs imploring “the gay community” to change entirely so that they can find a boyfriend. Or in your case, even to “get laid.” Well maybe you’re the one who should be checking out that skinny guy (with or sans designer sunglasses), maybe the problem is you?

    Actually in your case you’re telling people to just give up and stay in the closet, while awaiting the mysterious transformative change in gay society that will be accomplished by… um… who, if everyone stays in the closet?

    Anyway, good luck sitting around waiting for “the gay community” to change and get better – how long will THAT take, anyway? – 20 years? 50 years? Yeah maybe you’ll get laid in the year 2063, lol.

  • the other Greg

    @toronto416: The most charitable thing i can say about your otherwise demented post is that maybe you’re onto something about porn.

    Porn probably does create unrealistic expectations for many guys. In the past this didn’t happen – i.e. before home video & internet porn became ubiquitous.

    But if you have a problem with porn, Toronto416, maybe you should consider NOT WATCHING PORN? Is this too radical a call for non-action for you? :)

  • Matt G

    there are efforts being made now to teach media literacy to young girls in the sense of realizing that images of women and their bodies that they are confronted with are heavily manipulated and they shouldn’t try to look int he mirror and measure up to that. I hope they don’t leave boys out of it too, because both gay and straight boys are having their heads messed with by those images.

    At least regarding fitness modeling, for shoots you have to be at a level of dehydration that’s unhealthy to maintain for a long period of time, on top of that are old photography tricks of angles and lighting and posing and then on top of that new photography tricks like photoshop. Look up some before and after images on the internet and you’d be amazed at some of the transformations. A lot of the before shots look perfectly fine and then are taken to a level of non-reality in pursuit of aesthetic ideas about the body.

    I can only partly agree wight he “get to a gym” folks, not everyone needs to be an underwear model at the end of the day but the number of adults in the US that take nearly no exercise of any form is staggering and it’s a major health issue, obesity being one part of it but also a lot of chronic low back pain, DM2, cardiovascular disease (stroke/MI) etc not to mention the number of people that can’t get themselves up off the floor by the age of 40 … Again don’t need to be an underwear model but lift a few weights at home or go for some jogs or sweat to the oldies or something.

  • viveutvivas

    @Matt G, media literacy about photoshop tricks is not going to help, when we all see people who are actually that perfect in real life every day. There are a number of them in my gym, for example. Unfortunately for me they are all straight (not that I think I would have a chance with them anyway).

  • Dinodogstar

    So without sounding too preachy, I think that gay men objectify themselves and each other, in the same manner that the straight male world objectifies women, and the women go along with it.
    Though I have to add, I developed mine just before I turned 13, and obviously wasn’t involved in the ‘gay scene’ at that age. I think it boils down to a substance abuse issue, combined with a tangent of self-harming behavior,whether you restrict eating or binge…food abuse is like alcohol and drug abuse, all too common in the gay male world, as we haven’t expelled the psychological demons that contributed to our low self esteem issues,,,
    It does seem clear that gay men, rather than working on, and fixing their internal self-hate issues, turn to beauty to gain status and self-worth when men are around every corner and often the only factor that sets a potential date apart is the physical allure…because eating disorders are always associated with models and actresses, there is, I believe, less shame and discomfort in following ill behavior if the outcome is what is considered the penultimate status of being a gay man, lean and built. Of course not everyone agrees on beauty standards, or aspires to this strict media image, but it is the one factor that is ironically, seriously promoted, as you can see by the attractive sexualized male image posted accompanying a story about really self-harming and possibly deadly behavior…

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