Binge Eating Is a Big Problem Among Men, but None of Them Want to Acknowledge ItS

With typically mordant self-deprecation, Louis C.K. tells a joke about going to the doctor and explaining his eating habits. When the imaginary doctor that Louis C.K. invented for the purposes of our amusement asks, "How much do you eat before you feel full?" Louis answers incredulously that he doesn't just stop eating when he's had his fill. "The meal isn't over when I'm full," he says. "The meal is over when I hate myself."

Enter the mind of a binge eater, a male binge eater, specifically. The New York Times' Well blog pulls the curtain back on men in the vise-like grip of binge eating, which is defined "as consuming large amounts of food within a two-hour period at least twice a week without purging, accompanied by a sense of being out of control." An estimated eight million American men and women struggle with binge eating, and while only about 10 percent of all patients with anorexia and bulimia are men, binge eating is an disorder shared equally between the sexes. Women, however, are more likely to admit to binge eating than men, and are therefore more likely to receive treatment (there is no distinct binge eating listing in the current D.S.M.).

Many men who binge eat don't even realize that they have a problem, since it's more culturally acceptable for men to shovel a lot of food down their gullets and be overweight than it is for women (think about the difference between the way a Hungry Man frozen dinner or a can of Chunky soup is advertised as compared to miscellaneous dessert yogurt or rice cakes). Few men, as a result, make the connection between a two-hour bout with a dozen maple bacon donuts, pizza, and a milk carton of Goldfish, and whatever emotional distress is urging them to consume as much food as their stomachs can hold.

According to Chevese Turner, founder of the Binge Eating Disorder Association, more men are starting to become aware of and seek help for binge eating problems, and, generally, cognitive therapy — identifying triggers, as well as patterns of eating, exercising and sleeping — is the best course of treatment. Binge eaters tend to restrict their eating during the day only to binge at night, so the treatment goal is to get binge eaters to eat three squares a day, plus a few snacks. The disorder, however, has a relapse rate of about 51 percent, and therapy doesn't necessarily lead to weight loss. Experts say that the challenge with male binge eaters is making it easier for them to come forward and admit that that they have a problem.

Let's bracket this nicely with another (male) comedian's perspective on weight gain. Patton Oswalt does a really funny bit about how he'd be more into going to Weight Watchers meetings if they were as dark or compelling as AA meetings. It seems less glamorous to cope with a pretzel and ice cream addiction than a heroin addiction, but that's because our representative food addiction movie is Fatso with Dom Deluise, and our representative drug movie is, oh, let's just say Rush because of how sexy it is. Eating heartily, according to food and restaurant commercials, is just something men are expected to do, while women are supposed to smile and eat salads — this is world we apparently live in, a world that puts unreasonable social pressure on women to abstain from eating and on men to indulge.

Binge Eating Among Men Steps Out of the Shadows [NY Times]

Image via Josh Resnick/Shutterstock.