Of the estimated 10 million people in the United States who have presentations of Binge Eating Disorder (BED) requiring eating disorder support, even to the point of a stay at an eating disorder recovery center, about 40 percent are men.
This stands in stark contrast to the gender split found in disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, which normally see an incidence in men of less than 10 percent. Because of the differences in the way males are socialized, biological differences, and the disproportionately small need for eating disorder support in men, binge eating recovery for this population requires specialized techniques in eating disorder treatment.
Fortunately, growing awareness of gender-specific eating disorder support needs has led to greater availability of specialized programs.
What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
Many people have confused BED with overeating or even with isolated incidences of large meals (such as at Thanksgiving). However, BED is actually a repetitive, compulsive set of behaviors that are classified as an eating disorder by the DSM-V, the official listing of diseases and disorders.
It’s characterized by a compulsion to eat abnormal amounts of foods (usually junk foods) in a short period of time as a compensatory behavior for stress, anxiety, depression, or trauma.
Unlike more well-known eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, BED does not normally include body image distortions of the type which lead individuals needing eating disorder treatment to consider themselves “fat” and correspondingly reduce calories or purge.
Men also show a much smaller occurrence rate of body image distortion, also known as body dysmorphia, and a lower expectation of being “skinny” by society and the media. This is thought to contribute to the higher rate of BED in men as compared to the rates of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Causative Factors in Binge Eating Recovery
We briefly touched on the dissimilarity between the way males and females are socialized and mediated above, but it bears further exploration because the combination of these factors plays a huge role in planning a unique program for binge eating recovery.
Very often, people are greatly influenced by the way attractiveness or beauty are portrayed in the media. These images and video bombard people on a daily basis. All too often the female “beauty” ideal presented in these forms of media is one of extreme, even unhealthy, thinness and low body fat.
This same standard is not usually applied to men, whose media portrayals tend to promote muscularity and size. This helps to explain why binge eating disorder, which does not feature caloric intake restrictions or purging behaviors, as a rule, has a higher incidence in men than other eating disorders.
In terms of binge eating disorder recovery, another major causative factor which needs to be addressed is the presence of stress, anxiety, or past trauma. In most cases of binge eating disorder, the disordered actions are a coping response to one of these factors. This means a proper binge eating disorder recovery program must be equipped to address these underlying causes as well as the direct symptoms.
Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Must Be Individualized
Because men are taught to think and feel in very different ways about their bodies and food than women are, the methods used to assist them in binge eating recovery, inside or out of an eating disorder treatment facility, have to be specialized by gender (as well as other things that make each individual unique).
For men entering treatment for BED, for example, certain types of therapy used in treatment for anorexia nervosa, much more common in women, will not be nearly as effective as the males are not usually suffering from body dysmorphia. For this reason, things like exposure therapy based around grocery shopping may not be as effective as they would be in cases of anorexia nervosa.
When searching for binge eating recovery programs, you or a loved one should make special dispensation for the programs you peruse. For males in general, a good program should be able to differentiate treatment methodologies to account for biological and social gender differences and be able to tailor their program for males specifically.