Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are historically associated with women. Binge eating is known to affect both women and men equally. But researchers often overlook men in studies investigating effective treatments for binge eating because affected males don’t come forward.
A women’s disease?
Binge eating is defined as consuming large amounts of food within a two-hour period at least twice a week without purging (that would be bulimia), accompanied by the feeling of being out of control. While usually considered a women’s problem, binge eating affects about 8 million Americans of both genders.
Men officially account for only about 10 percent of patients with anorexia or bulimia, but binge eating affects both sexes at similar rates. According to research published in The International Journal of Eating Disorders, among more than 46,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65 studied, about 11 percent of women and 7.5 percent of men reported binge eating to some degree.
The study’s lead author, Ruth Striegel, professor of psychology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., said her research shows binge eating is just as dangerous for men as women, yet they are inclined to avoid treatment for fear of being embarrassed by having a women’s disease.
Binge eating episodes
Some harrowing tales have emerged recently about the price men have paid for ignoring the consequences of binge eating. Ron Saxen, a recovering binge eater, wrote a book about how ignoring the condition sabotaged his modeling career. In his memoir “The Good Eater,” he describes binge-eating episodes where he would eat 10,000 to 15,000 calories within 90 minutes in the form of burgers, fries, milkshakes, candy bars and ice cream.
Saxen would try to compensate for his binge eating by running up to 30 miles after an episode. But as the pounds piled on, it got more difficult to run enough to burn off the calories. Eventually he ballooned from 180 to nearly 300 pounds and ruined his knees as well as his modeling career. It took years for Saxen to overcome his shame and get help. “Guys generally don’t come forward for any reason,” he said.
Binge eating consequences
That shame is one of the primary reasons male binge eating is largely unrecognized by doctors, according to researchers. Most of the literature about eating disorders is written for women. For men who do man up to seek treatment, finding a therapist to work with can be difficult.
Other binge-eating men may be totally ignorant of their condition, or refuse to accept it because a few extra pounds is more acceptable for men than women in our culture. However, along with health consequences, binge eating is a mental condition often triggered by depression, anxiety and sleep problems.
Therapist Andrew Whalen, a recovering binge-eater, told the New York Times that even when excessive overeating may bother some men, they don’t recognize that emotional distress, not hunger, may be the reason.
If you’re wondering whether you have an eating disorder, common warning signs that you may need help include a negative effect on your quality of life and personal relationships resulting from binge eating, as well as other health issues such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. You could be dealing with a serious illness and the shame of seeking treatment is a far better alternative to an early death.