Much attention has been paid over the years to the way women perceive their bodies. But what about men? New research shines a spotlight on a growing trend among men to take supplements as a means to change the way they look — and asks whether or not the overuse of these supplements should be considered a new breed of eating disorder.

For decades women have been dealing with sexualized and Photoshopped images that send the message that to be thin is to be desirable. But now men are seeing more and more of these types of images of their own gender with an even more confusing message that promotes both a muscular and lean body type. To achieve this look, men are relying on shakes, pills and other "appearance or performance enhancing drugs" — or APEDs — that claim to foster the development of lean muscle mass.

In a new study, researchers took a closer look at the use of APEDs and asked whether their overuse is a new eating disorder for men.

For the study, researchers talked to about 200 men between the ages of 18 and 65 who worked out at least twice a week and also used fitness supplements such as whey protein, creatine and L-cartinine. The men were asked not only about their eating and exercise habits but also about their personal views about their bodies. Their results showed that many men use these supplements because they are unhappy with their physical appearance — a classic sign of an eating disorder.

Almost 30 percent of the men surveyed were concerned about their AEPD use, yet, they continued to use them. Another bad sign. Forty percent of men had increased their use of AEPDs over time and 22 percent used these supplements to replace meals.

In the truly extreme cases, research found that 8 percent of the men had been advised by their doctor to cut back on their use of fitness supplements and three percent had been hospitalized for kidney or liver problems after excessive use of AEPDs.

The report notes that AEPDs have become the primary means by which many men seek to change their bodies. While eating disorders in men are rarer and less talked about than those in women, researchers think this new tendency for men to use and abuse AEPDs as a means to a different body might be fostering a new strain of eating disorder in men — one that feeds on low-self esteem and is rooted in problems deeper than what can be solved at the gym.

To make matters worse, men are much less likely than women to even think about their habits in terms of an eating disorder. And if they do sense a problem, there are few resources available to men to help them address it.

The study's results were presented at the recent American Psychological Association meeting in Toronto where researchers debated the categorization of the overuse of AEPD supplements as an eating disorder. Researchers hope that by shining a light on this issue, they can open up resources for men to help them address this growing problem.

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