Are Dietary Supplements Sign Of An Eating Disorder?

Male gym rats are replacing regular meals with dietary supplements in the hope it will help them be body beautiful

Aug 06, 2015 at 2:00 PM ET

So many Americans take dietary supplements that the American Psychological Association is considering classifying the craze as an emerging eating disorder, according to a new study.

When it comes to eating disorders, women are usually the driving force behind the statistics (only 10 percent of bulimic and anorexic people are male). Dietary supplements, however, could change that. The study implies that men are far more likely than women to over-indulge when it comes to bodybuilding and weight-loss supplements. “Men’s bodies are increasingly objectified in modern society,” psychologist and principal author Richard Achiro said in a prepared statement. “[Supplements] have become an almost ubiquitous fixture in the pantries of young men across the country.”

Not that they’re guaranteed to work. Dietary supplements are almost never FDA-approved. That means there’s no quality control—no guarantee that the ingredient list is accurate and no guarantee that someone didn’t slip a dangerous chemical into the bottle which might cause heart attacks or promote breast growth.

For the study, Achiro and his colleagues surveyed 195 men who pound dietary supplements regularly as part of their workout routine. Almost 30 percent of participants said they were concerned about their overuse of supplements, yet 40 percent said their supplement use had increased over time, 22 percent said they have begun replacing their meals with dietary supplements and three percent reported having been hospitalized for kidney or liver problems due to supplement use.

That sounds a lot like an emerging eating disorder. Taken together, the data obtained by Achiro and his team effectively amount to what psychologists would call “eating concern” and “restrictive eating”—two well-established risk factors for eating disorders. And, as with victims of other eating disorders, the men repeatedly suggested that they were hooked on supplements due to body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem.

“These products have become an almost ubiquitous fixture in the pantries of young men across the country and can seemingly be purchased anywhere and everywhere—from grocery stores to college book stores,” Achiro said in a prepared statement. “The most critical implication for these findings is to put risky or excessive legal supplement use on the map.”