Eating Disorders Happen to Men, Too – Especially Binge Eating Disorder

Although most people think of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa when they hear the term “eating disorder,” the National Eating Disorders Association shows that binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States.  Binge eating disorders symptoms are defined by binge eating episodes (in which a person eats a large amount of food in a short period), feelings of shame or and guilt following the episode, and a compulsion to repeat these behaviors repeatedly.  BED can result in severe health risks, mostly relating to obesity, and mental health complications such as depression, OCD, and even suicide.

The stereotype that eating disorders only happen to women has some small relationship to the truth; they do occur more often in women than in men. Recently, though, therapists at eating disorder treatment centers have seen an increase in men receiving treatment – largely because of changes in traditional gender roles as they apply to therapy.

While women have usually been diagnosed with eating disorders at a much higher rate than men, binge eating disorder may be the exception that proves the rule. According to Psycom, 40 percent of binge eating cases are observed in men. 

How Is Binge Eating Disorder Different for Men?

The most important factor in the previous underreporting of BED in men is a cultural one. For centuries and even to this day, men are less likely than women to express emotional distress or admit to mental health issues. Sadly, cultural influences lead many men to think that this would be a sign of weakness or failure. This reticence to admit that there may be a problem can lead to other difficulties unique to men with BED:

  • Refusing to ask for help–As with other types of mental health or behavioral health disorder, men tend to try and “tough out” the situation rather than asking for help from a family member or even a professional.
  • Taking part in “avoidance behaviors”–An “avoidance behavior” is like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand – ignoring a problem rather than addressing it.  This can manifest as avoiding using the scale or seeing a doctor and instead just hoping the problem will go away on its own.
  • Anger at confrontation – Certainly, many women are angry at being confronted by friends or family about their disordered eating.  However, studies have shown that men to reply more frequently to these situations with anger than women do.

What Are the Causes and Triggers for BED?

A “trigger” in eating disorder treatment terms is a situation or feeling that impels a person to engage in one or more binge eating sessions. These triggers are common in men, although not exclusive to them in the least:

  • Frequent dieting and calorie restrictions –Men who feel overweight will sometimes go on crash diets to lose weight, leaving them underfed and hungry. This can lead to secretive “cheat days” or other kinds of binge eating episodes. 
  • Trauma and PTSD–Just as with women, binge eating episodes are often related to past trauma – binge eating releases dopamine into the brain which alleviated anxiety and depression temporarily.  Symptoms of PTSD can trigger BED-associated behaviors as a coping mechanism.
  • Suppressing Feelings–Men are culturally influenced to have more difficulty expressing how they are feeling. Males that are not able to communicate effectively may internalize their emotions, causing them to turn to food for comfort.  

How Can I Spot Symptoms of BED in a Loved One?

Some symptoms may require the help of a doctor to identify, but several are noticeable by the people closest to the individual in question:

  • They often eat even if they’re not hungry.
  • Eating past the point of being full
  • Stockpiles of junk food, hidden away, or lots of food wrappers being found suddenly in the trash
  • Feelings of guilt or shame after eating.
  • They may experience extreme changes in weight.
  • High blood pressure, cholesterol and other health conditions associated with obesity

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CARRIE HUNNICUTT

With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment  – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.

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