Binge Eating Disorder and Men; More Common Than You Think

Eating disorder recovery centers and the experts at the National Eating Disorder Association estimate that binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting roughly 10 million people.Unusually for an eating disorder, 40 percent of binge eating disorder cases are men. This is very different from other disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, which normally appear in men in less than 10 percent of cases.

Because of the differences in male social roles, a few significant biological differences, and less frequent availability of eating disorder support for men, binge eating disorder may go underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed in that population. Fortunately, growing awareness of gender-specific eating disorder support needs has led to greater availability of specialized programs.

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Many people have confused binge eating disorder with occasionally eating too much or overindulging on the holidays, as an example. However, the condition is actually a repetitive, compulsive set of behaviors that were classified as an eating disorder by the DSM-V, the official listing of mental health illness, in 2013. It’s characterized by a compulsion to eat large amounts of food (usually junk foods) in a short period. The urges are often triggered by stress or trauma and become almost addictive.

Unlike restrictive or purging eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder does not normally include body image distortions that cause the person to irrationally think they are overweight. It normally does not come with a fear of gaining weight, either.

Men usually display less of this body dysmorphia (distorted body image) and have a lower expectation of being “skinny” by society and the media. This is most likely the reason binge eating disorder is more common in men as compared to the rates of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?

We briefly touched on the differences in the roles society places on men’s bodies as compared to women’s bodies, but it bears further exploration because these roles and the way the media portrays ideal body standards are important causative factors in binge eating disorder.

Media presentation of beauty standards is often unrealistic and unattainable.These images and video set examples that an average person can’t achieve no matter how much they exercise or diet. All too often the female beauty standard in these forms of media is thinness and low body fat, promoting an entire diet industry.

This same standard is not usually applied to men, whose standards tend to focus on musculature and strength. This helps to explain why binge eating disorder, which does not feature caloric intake restrictions or purging behaviors, as a rule, has a higher incidence in men than other eating disorders.

As common triggers for binge eating episodes, stress, trauma, PTSD and other forms of anxiety must be considered as causative factors as well.In most cases of binge eating disorder, the disordered actions are a coping response to one of these factors, since binge eating episodes trigger the release of dopamine, a brain chemical that makes people feel happy and improves mood.Most professional binge eating disorder recovery programs are prepared and equipped to address these underlying causes as well as the disordered behaviors themselves.

Binge Eating Disorder Recovery for Men Must Be Specialized

Because men are taught by the media and societal norms to think and feel in different ways about their bodies and food than women are, gender-specific treatment programs are a must. In a field of therapy that has long been focused entirely on women, many treatment centers are beginning to produce treatment programs that are sensitive to gender concerns.

For men entering treatment for BED, for example, certain types of therapy used in treatment for anorexia nervosa, much more common in women, will not be nearly as effective as the clients aren’t experiencing a distorted body image. For this reason, treatment methods like body-image cognitive retraining used in anorexia nervosa therapy aren’t as effective.

When searching for binge eating recovery programs, you or a loved one should make a special effort to find one that can accommodate men as well as women. For males in general, a good program should be able to differentiate treatment methodologies to account for biological and social gender differences and be able to tailor their program for males specifically.