Based on studies produced by the National Eating Disorders Association and other organizations, binge eating disorder is a common and possibly life-threatening form of eating disorder. The symptoms include recurring binge eating episodes (where the individual eats uncontrollably), feeling shame or distress following the episode, and secrecy about the actions and feelings that come with it.
The occurrence of most types of eating disorders among males has been much lower than in females. In recent years, however, awareness has been raised about eating disorders in men, which are commonly underreported. While women are generally diagnosed with eating disorders at a much higher rate than men, binge eating disorder is much more balanced between the genders. According to Psycom, 40 percent of binge eating disorder patients are male. Although the physical symptoms are generally the same in the long run, there are differences in how BED affects men and women in the short term.
How Is Binge Eating Disorder Different for Men?
Although it’s a stereotype, there is some truth to the concept that men are less likely to talk about emotions than women. All too often, men may perceive being open about their feelings as weakness and may be more likely to hide their problems. This leads to certain complicating factors for men who have developed a case of binge eating disorder. These might include:
- Waiting Longer to Ask for Help – Men are more likely to wait before admitting there’s an issue, even to themselves. They’re often prone to think asking for help is a sign of weakness and will try to manage their disordered behavior alone, which often worsens the issue.
- Avoiding the Issue Entirely – Males are more likely to practice avoidance behaviors such as avoiding the scale or the doctor’s office. Women, however, are more likely to become compulsive about weighing themselves and trying to fit into certain clothes.
- Decreased Sexual Function – The inability to perform sexually is more pronounced in overweight men than in the same group of women. Binge eating disorder symptoms such as obesity and blood pressure issues for males can affect sexual functioning negatively.
What Are Some of the Causes of BED in Men?
There are several kinds of triggers that cause both males and females to engage in binge eating episodes. The following are some of the triggers that most often affect males and cause disordered eating patterns:
- Restrictive Dieting and Poor Body Image– Males that try to maintain a restrictive eating plan are more susceptible to “cheating” on their diet with large amounts of unhealthy food. Research has shown that in contrast to women with eating disorders, who feel that they’re “fat” but are often an appropriate weight, men will often actually be overweight before symptoms of a disorder become apparent.
- Prior Trauma – Males sometimes have experienced traumatic events in their lives that can lead to the kind of compulsive eating that defines BED. It’s not just soldiers that PTSD affects –bullying is sometimes an ongoing trauma that can cause young boys and men to develop BED.
- Internalized Emotions – As mentioned before, for cultural and possible biological reasons, men are less likely to talk about their feelings with others. People who have difficulty with emotional communication may internalize their emotions, causing them to turn to food for comfort.
What Are the Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder?
The following are some of the binge eating disorder symptoms for both men and women.
- Eating even if they’re not hungry.
- Eating past the point of physical comfort.
- Eating extremely quickly.
- Feeling of guilt, shame, or depression after binge eating.
- Major weight gain or weight fluctuation.
- Medical symptoms of obesity, like high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Eating disorders in general do affect women more often than men, with the acknowledgment that the true numbers might be skewed by men’s reluctance to seek help for them. Because of this, many eating disorder treatment centers offer women-only programs. Less often, you can find a men’s-only treatment program, but they are not common. Despite this, most programs offer gender-inclusive care that treats both men and women as part of the same milieu.
It would be remiss to mention gender-specific treatment without talking about transgender people. People who identify as trans encounter eating disorders at a significantly higher rate than the general population. Although being trans does not necessarily induce body dysmorphia (a distorted perception of one’s body), the sense of being in a body of the wrong gender can trigger it. As an example, trans men may try to restrict intake to reduce the size of their chest and hips.
Treatment of binge eating disorder for men must also include treatment for trans men. Gender-affirming care becomes essential, whether it comes in residential, day treatment, or virtual care. These programs work to respect a person’s gender and provide care that is informed of its unique qualities.
Types of Treatment for Eating Disorders
Although knowledge of gender-specific treatment needs is essential, many common treatment techniques are not dependent on a person’s gender. The following techniques are evidence-based, meaning that they’ve been proven in clinical trials and through demonstrated effectiveness. Some of the components of a gender-inclusive treatment program include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
A well-known, empirically proven technique used for treatment of a wide variety of mental health disorders, is a client-therapist dynamic of guided thinking designed to isolate and negate negative thoughts and thinking patterns. For example, a person who turns to binge-eating episodes when feeling especially depressed will work with their counselor at an eating disorder treatment center to “talk through” the feelings and thoughts of depression without engaging in a disordered behavior as a response to those feelings. CBT can be done in group settings, although it’s usually one-on-one between the client and therapist.
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
Was developed in the late 1980s using the CBT method as its base, is a highly effective technique designed to help people process PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very potent trigger for various disordered behaviors, from substance abuse to eating disorders. This makes addressing PTSD an important foundation for continued recovery; promoting the ability to cope with negative emotions caused by PTSD helps prevent relapses after the individual has left the treatment center. The treatment consists of 12 sessions between a client and a trained therapist, usually once a week. It can be done in residential or outpatient treatment and can be done virtually, a boon in a time when in-person visits can be impossible.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Another offshoot of CBT that was originally intended to help people with borderline personality disorder. DBT is useful for other behavioral health issues as well, especially eating disorders. It focuses on emotional regulation, interpersonal relationships, distress tolerance, and impulse control. DBT is useful in counteracting triggers for disordered eating behaviors. For example, a common method taught by DBT when a person is faced with an urge to restrict food is to do the opposite – in this case, have a snack. It’s often a long and arduous process to be able to accomplish this, but with support and practice, permanent behavior modification is possible.
Seeking Treatment for Males
The stereotype of eating disorders as only affecting young women makes it harder for men with binge eating disorder and other eating disorders to both admit there is a problem and to seek out treatment for it. However, there is more and more help available as these stereotypes are broken. Anyone seeking treatment for binge eating disorder should contact a binge eating disorder treatment center for more information.