Binge Eating Often Overlooked in Men

Researchers Say Men Are Often Not Included in Studies About Binge Eating

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 27, 2011 -- Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are more common among women than men. Binge eating, however, occurs at similar rates among both sexes. Yet men are rarely included in research studies on binge eating and its consequences and treatments, a study shows.

The researchers analyzed data from 21,743 men and 24,608 women who participated in a health risk self- assessment. Binge eating in the past month was reported by 7.5% of men and 11.19% of women.

The study is published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Binge eating disorder is marked by:

  • Frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food in short periods of time
  • Feeling like you have no control over your eating
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating in secret

Many people feel ashamed and/or disgusted by their binge eating.

Health Risks of Binge Eating

There are serious health risks associated with binge eating. These include:

Both male and female binge eaters face these risks as a result of their behavior.

Just because men are underrepresented in studies about binge eating does not mean the problem does not exist, says Ruth H. Striegel, PhD, a psychologist at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

"Efforts are needed to raise awareness of the clinical implications of binge eating for men so they can seek appropriate screening and treatment," Striegel says in a news release.

Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD, agrees. She is a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. "This is a very important topic," she says. As a result of the lack of research, men and even doctors are not aware of the prevalence and symptoms of eating disorders in men.

The stereotype of a man with an eating disorder is that of a wrestler who spends time losing weight before a match only to binge once wrestling season is over.

"Sports can be triggers, but we need to think beyond the stereotypes," she says. "It's more than just athletes. Eating disorders in men are pervasive."

It's not just binge eating either. Men may also have anorexia and bulimia, she says. "Sometimes they are being treated for depression, and the eating disorder is uncovered in therapy."

In general, "men tend to get less treatment than women for eating disorders, she says. But "men do struggle with their eating and should not hesitate to seek treatment because eating disorders do affect their quality of life."

So how can you tell if it's an eating disorder? "If it is affecting quality of life, relationships, or they are missing work, or it is causing other health issues such as weight gain or diabetes, it may be a sign that you need help," she says. "There is help. You are not alone."

Men Should Seek Treatment for Binge Eating

Christopher Clark is the executive director of the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders. Clark says that men with binge eating disorder may fly under the radar because it's more culturally acceptable for men to overeat. As a result, they and others around them may think their eating habits are normal.

This is why binge eating and other eating disorders often go undiagnosed among men. Doctors may not ask and men may not tell, Clark says.

"Men should not be ashamed and should seek treatment because these are serious illnesses -- and could be fatal," Clark says. Clark's group provides information, support, and resources for men with eating disorders.


Binge eating disorder is best described as… See Answer

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SOURCES: Striegel, R.H. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 2011.Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD, psychologist, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio.Christopher Clark, executive director, National Association for Males with Eating Disorders, Naples, Fla. ©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.