Gender and Binge-eating Disorder
Most of my clients for binge-eating disorder are and have been women, but that doesn’t mean men don’t have similar problems. Women enter therapy more often and are more appearance conscious than men. But, take note, males can be binge-eaters too.
After reading “Binge Eating Among Men Steps Out of the Shadows” by Abby Ellin (NY Times, 8/13/12), I wondered how many of you have male partners, colleagues, brothers, spouses, friends, or fathers who binge. As the article points out, men are expected to eat a lot and aren’t as self-conscious about it as women. In fact, chowing down may be seen as a manly thing to do. However, when you’re consuming many hundreds or even thousands of calories at one sitting and feel out of control around food, that’s nothing near normal eating. As therapist and former binge-eater Andrew Walen points out in the article, that’s about “numbness and self-loathing.” He also acknowledges the feelings of being “no good and worthless” that often accompany a binge.
Citing an October online study, the article says, “the March issue of The International Journal of Eating Disorders found that among 46,351 men and women ages 18 to 65, about 11 percent of women and 7.5 percent of men acknowledged some degree of binge eating. ‘Binge eating among men is associated with significant levels of emotional distress, obesity, depression, work productivity impairment,’ according Richard Bedrosian, a study author and director of behavioral health and solution development at Wellness and Prevention Inc.”
The article underscores the fact that men rarely seek treatment for eating problems. Let’s see, in my 30-plus years of treatment, I’ve had two male clients. I have, however, had many men attend my lectures and workshops (safety in numbers?). But reluctance isn’t just about eating problems; most men don’t seek treatment for any kind of mental health problems. I did have a client who was the wife of a man with overeating problems. She sought me out to fix him, but that didn’t work out very well.
So. Women, is there a way you could ever-so-gently broach this subject with men whom you think are binge-eaters? And, men, why not get the help you need? There’s nothing shameful about having eating problems no matter what your gender. What’s sad, and may bring you more shame, is denying or minimizing your problems, suffering alone, not going for help, and lacking the courage to face your issues. Think about it. Could you use some help to eat more sanely and healthfully? If so, do whatever you need to do to get it. You can start by telling someone about your eating concerns.