‘The Bachelorette’ Started a Conversation We Need to Have About Men & Eating Disorders

This week's episode of The Bachelorette was a powerful one. Oftentimes on the show, contestants bring up the past struggles in their lives that shaped them into who they are today. It's especially impactful when topics are brought up that aren't talked about nearly enough. On Colton’s season, Caelynn memorably spoke out about being raped in college, sparking important conversations for viewers everywhere, and this week, Ben opened up to Tayshia about his struggle with an eating disorder.

In a culture of social media, where it seems that everyone is obsessed with outer appearances, eating disorders are a serious problem, and it doesn’t just affect women. Young girls may be the image we first associate with eating disorders, but eating disorders do not discriminate against age, gender or sexualiy. According to NEDA, a 2014 study found that rates of disordered eating have increased across all demographic sectors, but even faster in male, lower socioeconomic and older participants. Another study found that out of 2,822 students on a large university campus, 3.6% of males suffered from eating disorders. The female-to-male ratio was 3-to-1. Subclinical eating disorders (i.e. eating disorders that cann't be formally diagnosed) are nearly as common among males as they are among females. 

So why don’t we see enough male representation in the media when it comes to eating disorders? There's often a stigma surrounding eating disorders that makes it difficult for those struggling to ask for help. What many people don't understand is that eating disorders aren’t narcissistic, or an obsession with vanity. They often stem from underlying mental or behavioral issues that need to be addressed. In men, these issues often go unnoticed because they're easily disguised as a love of fitness or preference for staying in shape. However, under the surface, many men struggle from muscle dysmorphia or bulimia and exercise obsessively in order to rid their bodies of unwanted calories. 

In Ben’s case, he started off by telling Tayshia, “The life I’ve lived is different than what you might assume,” which is important to show that you never know what someone has going on below the surface. “The reason that I’m in fitness and nutrition – I had an eating disorder for 15 years. I found out what girls were when I was 15, and I realized they don’t like the fat kid,” he shares.  “And so I stopped eating, started working out all the time, lost like 70 pounds, and had bulimia for 10 years when I was in my 20s.” Not only was this scene emotional to watch, it was also so powerful to see Ben find the courage to share his story.

It's so important in changing the narrative when it comes to eating disorders, and shedding a light on men who suffer from them. Someone could be suffering so much on the inside and it'll never show externally. “It’s hard to hide something for so long. I kept it from everybody, the only person that knows is my sister. She saved my life,” Ben says. “I’m finally in a place where I feel safe and comfortable with the people I live and work with.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, you're not alone. Reach out to the National Eating Disorder Helpline or talk to a trusted friend or family member.