It’s Time We Paid Attention to Binge Eating in Men

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Even though Binge Eating affects roughly the same number of men as women, it often goes undiagnosed in men—with dangerous consequences.

In the past, men enjoyed a much broader range of “acceptable” body shapes and sizes than women. Societal messages implored women to be stick-thin in order to be sexy or desirable, while men could be tall and lanky or stout and plump without drawing much negative attention.

Over the years, men have increasingly joined the ranks of people dissatisfied with how they look. Not coincidentally, male role models in magazines and on TV, even the action figures of their youth, have gotten leaner and more muscular.

Today, men are catching up with women in body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Some are going to dangerous lengths to slim down, others spend hours in the gym bulking up and others find themselves drowning their emotions in food.

In short, men are struggling with the same eating disorders that have for too long been categorized as “women’s diseases.”

An Invisible Problem Comes to Light

While men make up about 10 percent of patients with anorexia and bulimia, both sexes struggle almost equally with binge eating. According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association, 40 percent of the estimated 10 million Americans who binge eat are men. In a recent study of 46,351 men and women ages 18 to 65 published inThe International Journal of Eating Disorders, roughly 11 percent of women and 7.5 percent of men struggled with binge eating.

Binge eating is defined as consuming large amounts of food within a two-hour period at least twice per week, combined with loss of control. Those struggling with this disorder often consume thousands of calories in one sitting, followed by an overwhelming sense of shame and self-loathing, which leads to further binging.

The causes and underlying mechanisms of binge eating are similar to other eating disorders. Binge eaters may suffer from low self-esteem, past trauma or weight-related bullying, or use food to numb emotions and cope with stress.

The symptoms of binge eating disorder are similar in men and women, and include:

  • Repeatedly eating large amounts of food in short periods of time, without purging
  • Feeling out of control around food
  • Eating in secret or hiding food
  • Eating regardless of hunger and until uncomfortably full
  • Eating to relieve difficult feelings
  • Feeling shame, self-hatred, disgust or despair after overeating
  • Frequently dieting or taking other measures to control weight and eating habits

Underrepresented But Highly Impacted

One factor that differentiates binge eating in men and women is that it is more likely to go unnoticed in men. Even if they are overweight or obese, as an estimated 70 percent of people with binge disorder are, eating more and carrying more weight are more socially acceptable for men than women.

Because eating disorders still carry a stigma, especially among men, the risks of binge eating are great. Heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other weight-related health conditions are common, as are mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Binge eating, like other eating disorders, can impact a man’s career, relationships and every area of his life.

Compounding the problem is the reality that many men do not seek treatment for fear of appearing weak, strange or like less of a man. Even when they do, there is no distinct listing for binge eating disorder in the current DSM, the diagnostic manual for mental health professionals (though it has been approved for inclusion in the next DSM).

As such, therapists may not be experienced in diagnosing or treating binge eating disorder in men.

Although men may not reach out for help as often, treatment is equally effective for men as it is for women. Treatment for binge eating disorder typically includes cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, nutritional counseling as well as other approaches. There are also support groups and eating disorder treatment programs, some of which have specialized tracks for men.

We Can’t Heal What We Don’t See

So why is it important to know that binge eating disorder is prevalent among men? A man who binge eats needs treatment and support just as a woman does.

Until more health care providers understand the symptoms of binge eating disorder, screen for eating disorders in both men and women (particularly when working with obese patients, or individuals struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses), and recommend appropriate treatment options, men will continue to hide in the shadows – at great cost to themselves and their loved ones.

With a growing body of research and expanding awareness, there’s no longer an excuse to overlook men who are so clearly in need of help to live longer, healthier lives.


For more information on eating disorders, visit National Eating Disorders Association

Also appeared at Everyday Feminism

Dr. Carolyn Ross is currently in an integrative medicine private practice specializing in treating eating disorders and obesity and is a consultant for eating disorder treatment at The Ranch. She wrote the books Healing Body, Mind and Spirit: An Integrative Medicine Approach to the Treatment of Eating Disorders andThe Binge Eating Disorder and Compulsive Overeating Workbook: An Integrated Approach to Overcoming Disordered Eating. Dr. Ross has also developed a line of supplements as a result of her research designed to support the recovery of patients with eating disorders, addictions and obesity.


A version of this article originally appeared on Psychology Today

Image courtesy of Flickr/Monica Arellano-Ongpin

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  1. The symptoms described as a binge eating disorder describe my entire adult life. I seem only able to feel shame about it, rather than discipline myself into healthier eating habits or to seek professional help.

  2. Even if they are overweight or obese, as an estimated 70 percent of people with binge disorder are, eating more and carrying more weight are more socially acceptable for men than women.
    I’m wondering if it was socially accepted or is it because of the fact that like other forms of discomfort and satisfaction men were not allowed to speak up about it and thus it was written off as being socially acceptable.

  3. Dave Burney says:

    So good to see this brought to light. One area not mentioned is binging as a result of anti-depressants. Something I continually struggle with.


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