Figures of men with eating disorders are on the rise and the issue of eating disorders in men is gaining increasing attention. The media is increasingly addressing men’s problems with eating disorders, e.g. ‘Eating Disorders: Not Just for Women’ (The Washington Post, Boodman, 2007), ‘More Men Facing Eating Disorders’ (CBS NEWS, Zelman, 2005), ‘Rise in men suffering from eating disorders’ (BBC NEWS, Knowles, 2011). Even a number of male celebrities have began to open up about their problems with eating disorders, for example, Elton John, Dennis Quaid, Mathew Perry, Billy Bob Thornton.
Men with eating disorders may experience stigma and shame in acknowledging that they suffer from an eating disorder, as eating disorders are traditionally associated with women and perceived to be ‘female diseases’ or ‘women’s problems’. As a result, men may find it even harder to admit in having an eating disorder and seek help. In addition, men with eating disorders have been overlooked by mental health professionals, as GPs and psychiatrists are much less likely to recognize the eating disorder and recommend treatment for eating disorders when the patient is male (Morgan, 2008; SLaM Media Release, 2010).
There are three fully recognized diagnostic categories of eating disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM); Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a subcategory disorder within EDNOS; that is BED still remains a non-fully recognised diagnosis. It is listed as a disorder for further study, (DSM-IV, American Psychiatric Association, 1994). A growing number of studies have provided evidence towards officially recognising BED as an eating disorder (Wilfley, Bishop, Wilson & Agras, 2007; Williamson, 2007). It is expected that BED will be a fully recognised eating disorder category in the new edition of the DSM-V, coming out in May 2013.
Regardless of any official recognition of BED as an eating disorder, it is without a doubt that BED is an eating disorder and it is affecting both men and women, of any age and ethnicity.
Binge Eating Disorder is generally defined as recurrent uncontrollable episodes of binge eating during which one consumes a large quantity of food, accompanied with marked distress, guilt or disgust during or after an eating binge and loss of control over eating (DSM-IV-TR, American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Men do suffer from Binge Eating Disorder. Research shows BED affects fairly equally both men and women (Smolak & Murner, 2001) and men represent up to 40% of cases of BED (Muise, Stein & Arbess, 2003).
BED has been described as a ‘nameless hunger’ (Johnston, 1996) as individuals eat large amounts of food, far more than what would be regarded as normal amounts by other people. ‘These are not greedy men with no control over their appetite. This is not simply ‘guy behaviour’ (Andersen, Cohn & Holbrook, 2000).
Individuals feel guilt and disgust after a binging episode where they experience loss of control over their food consumption. This feature of having a sense of loss of control is what distinguishes binge eating from overeating (Fairburn, 1995). Individuals also experience dissociation from their surroundings, ‘a trance-like state of detachment’ as they feel detached from their own feelings and thoughts (Morgan, 2008). Individuals suffering from BED tend to eat in secrecy, avoid social situations where eating is involved and hide any evidence of what they ate (Fairburn, 1995).
Ron Saxen, in his book memoir of struggling with binge eating disorder described his eating disorder as ‘my darkest secret-my insane eating’ (p.122, 2007). Saxen described feeling ‘out of control, so full, so hopeless’ after bingeing which ‘devaluated me in my own eyes (p.103, 2007). Binge eating disorder can have devastating consequences on one’s life; physical and psychological functioning.
It is expected with the new development in the diagnostic classification of BED in May 2013 that mental health practitioners will be better able to diagnose an individual with BED, and especially men with BED. The evident increase in awareness and numbers of men with eating disorders hopefully will enable more and more men to feel more understood and less isolated in a society that continues to stigmatize eating disorders as female disorders. This in turn may help men to voice their own struggles and seek treatment for their eating disorder, and to break the stigma which surrounds men suffering with an eating disorder.
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