Males historically had much more leniency about what they ate and how much they weighed. Guys could get away with those extra 10 pounds far more easily than women, to whom pressures to be thin, fit, and sexy are silently whispered by airbrushed, glamorized models.
Today the scale, one might say, is becoming more balanced. These days, body dissatisfaction in men is dramatically increasing, with some research finding about half of men don’t like their overall body shape and particular parts their bodies, especially shoulders, chest, and back1. This poor body image in males, partly caused by increase objectification of men in media, is driving up the number of men who have binge-eating disorder (BED).
The Increasing Body Image Problems for Men
About 11 percent of women and 7.5 percent of men struggle with binge eating, found a study of 46,351 men and women ages 18 to 652. While BED appears more frequently in girls than boys, partial criteria for the illness is equally present in both sexes.
The sons, nephews, and little brothers of these adult men, unfortunately, are feeling the same way. Boys and adolescents are increasingly unhappy with their bodies and take actions, sometimes very extreme, to change it. In a longitudinal study of adolescent boys and young men, almost 18 percent were extremely worried about their weight and physique (Field JAMA)3.
The Relationship Between Binge Eating and Dieting
The study, Growing Up Today, followed 5,527 males aged 12-18 years old from 1999 to 2010 and found unlike their female counterparts who sought after thinness, boys strived to have bigger, more defined muscles. By the end of the study, almost 3 percent of the young men had partial- or full-criteria for BED for at least one year.
Dieting is one of the greatest predictors of binge eating. Teens and young adults, both male and female, who dieted were two to three times more likely than non-dieters to develop binge-eating problems over five-year follow-ups4.
Still, most adolescents who diet don’t binge eat, so researchers looked into what caused some dieting teens to turn to bingeing, and found common risk factors were low self-esteem, being teased, and depression.
Why BED Appears so often in Adolescents
Adolescence, then, can be the perfect storm for BED. Many teens have fragile self-esteems; feel uncomfortable in their bodies; experience extreme highs and lows; and go to school, which can be battlegrounds for teasing.
BED is unique from other eating disorders, like anorexia and nervosa, because it is almost equally pervasive in men as in women. While men make up about 10 percent of patients with anorexia and bulimia, about the same number of men and women struggle with binge eating, according to the Binge Eating Disorder Association.
Binge Eating Disorder in Males: How Many Men Have It?
About 10 million Americans binge eat, and 40 percent are men, the association reports.
Many experts hypothesize the number of males with BED and other eating disorders is greater than statistics show — mainly because diagnostic criteria for eating disorders is female-focused and because many men with eating disorders feel ashamed to admit to and seek help for an illness society still considers a female one.
Why BED crosses gender lines unlike any other eating disorder can be what it does: numbs. People who binge-eat tend to have negative views of their bodies and themselves — they often feel like failures — and they also have an acute awareness of what other people think of them5. More than half of people with BED are clinically depressed.
The Discomfort and Pain of BED
These feelings make self-awareness uncomfortable, sometimes painful, and something to avoid, which bingeing does for a short time. Bingeing can temporarily wipe out self-awareness and feelings of inadequacy, failure, anxiety, depression, and other distressing emotions.
It can be easier, even safer, to mask these feelings with bingeing, especially for males, many of whom think expressing vulnerable feelings is effeminate and asking for help is weak.
The Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder in Males
People who binge hide it, so it’s hard for parents to find out and help if their child is doing it. The signs include:
- Large amounts of food that seems to vanish. Do whole boxes of cookies or crackers go missing often?
- Tell-tale wrappers. Do you find empty bags or boxes in trash cans?
- Food stashes. Have you seen supplies of snacks in desk drawers, backpacks, the garage, or odd places around the house? Has your child stolen food?
- Late-night binges. Does your child seem to wait to eat huge amounts when alone?
- Yo-yo weight. Does your child gain and lose? Or has there been a sudden weight gain? Binge eaters tend to weigh too much, but weight may also swing from low to high.
- Eating quirks. Does your child hardly eat at meals or fast, but not lose weight? Refuse certain foods? He may skimp when around others and gorge later. Or he may skip meals to try to make up for a binge.
- Trouble at home or school. Does your child seem depressed or anxious? Is he bullied or teased? Food can be a way of coping. A child may eat for comfort, to escape or avoid dealing with tough things, or to rebel against rules6.
About the Author:
Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.
- Dakanalis, A., Timko, C.A., Favagrossa, L., Riva, G., Zanetti M.A., & Clerici, M. (2014). Why do only a minority of men report severe levels of eating disorder symptomatology, when so many report substantial body dissatisfaction? Examination of exacerbating factors. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 22(4), 292-305.
- Striegel R., Bedrosian R, Wang C, Schwartz S. (2012). Why men should be included in research on binge eating: results from a comparison of psychosocial impairment in men and women. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 45(2), 233-40.
- Field, A., Sonneville K., Crosby R., Swanson S., Eddy K., Camargo C., Horton, N, Micali, N. (2014). Prospective associations of concerns about physique and the development of obesity, binge drinking, and drug use among adolescent boys and young adult men. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(1), 34-39.
- Goldschmidt, A., Wall, M., Loth, K., le Grange, D., Katie A., Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2012). Which dieters are at risk for the onset of binge eating? A prospective study of adolescents and young adults. Journal of Adolescent Health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 50(1), 86-92.
- Heatherton, T., Baumeister, R. (1991). Binge eating as escape from self-awareness. Psychology Bulletin, 110(1), 86-108.
Binge Eating Disorder in Kids and Teens (WebMD)
- http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/binge-eating-kids-teens. Accessed April 17, 2015.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 28th, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com