Protein Powder Abuse: Study Finds New Eating Disorder in Men

Prolonged and excessive ingestion of fitness supplements is both mentally and physically harmful.
A bodybuilding competition at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, California. (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/Getty Images)
Aug 8, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Head to any vitamin shop and you’ll find rows of energy bars, protein powders, and other supplements often used to add muscle. But new research has found purchasing these items could indicate an emerging eating disorder in men.

Low self-esteem, poor body image, and the desire to appear masculine have contributed to an increase in the use of appearance- and performance-enhancing supplements, according a study presented at the American Psychological Association’s convention this week.

“Men are using the supplements in a way that is risky both to their physical health and their health in terms of relationships and their own emotional well-being,” the study’s prinicipal author, Richard Achiro, told Reuters.

Achiro profled nearly 200 men, all of whom had taken supplements in the past month and worked out at least twice a week. Twenty-nine percent of respondents reported that they were concerned about the supplements they were taking. Forty percent reported that their use of supplements increased over time. Eight percent said doctors advised them to reduce their supplement intake, because overuse can lead to kidney and renal failure.

The study found that men’s fear of not appearing masculine was the primary insecurity triggering harmful behavior. One in four people suffering from an eating disorder is a man. The majority of these men fall into the category of “eating disorder not otherwise specified.” Instead of striving to be thin, men looking to supplements want to be slender but with the six-pack abs and bulging biceps seen on shirtless men on television.

Just as unattainable media representations of the slim women contribute to a desire for thinness in women, men are pressured to match the muscled figures presented to them as the ideal form of masculinity. Reports of body dissatisfaction in men have skyrocketed in recent years, with the National Eating Disorders Association citing media depictions as a driving factor. And it doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon.

“The way in which men’s bodies are being objectified by the media is catching up rapidly to what has been done to women’s bodies for decades,” Achiro added. “It makes sense to believe that as that occurs, men’s mental health and emotional issues are going to be expressed more and more in eating disorder behavior.”