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Providing Binge Eating Disorder Recovery in Men

Of the estimated 10 million people in the United States who have presentations of Binge Eating Disorder (BINGE EATING DISORDER) 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 BINGE EATING DISORDER with overeating or even with isolated incidences of large meals (such as at Thanksgiving).  However, BINGE EATING DISORDER 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 as a compensatory behavior for stress, anxiety, depression, or trauma.

Unlike more well-known eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, BINGE EATING DISORDER 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 BINGE EATING DISORDER 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 is portrayed in the media.  These images and videos bombard people daily.  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 that 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 Treatment 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 BINGE EATING DISORDER, 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 on grocery shopping may not be as effective as they would be in cases of anorexia nervosa.

Treatment Methods for Binge Eating Disorder

Many components are part of an individualized treatment program for binge eating disorder. These do not differ between different genders, but the individual’s specific plan should be informed by their gender circumstances and include them in the program. Here are some of the main components of a quality binge eating disorder treatment program:

  • Medical and Nursing Care: The treatment center should through the medical presentations related to the eating disorder and help you through the challenges of refeeding and re-nourishment by keeping the client safe and as comfortable as possible during your stay. These efforts should be supported by onsite physician assessments and 24/7 nursing.
  • Multidisciplinary, Evidence-Based Therapy: Psychological professionals should always with the patient to craft an effective program that meets their specific needs. Following best practices, the facility should integrate evidence-based therapy into interventions, such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and 12-step models, as well as a wide range of experiential and traditional therapeutic modalities.
  • Family Involvement in the Recovery Process:Family involvement is crucial to the healing and recovery process. At all levels of care, patients have an opportunity to participate in a family workshop that promotes honest, loving communication. Within this nurturing environment, residents, families, and loved ones are introduced to the tools they need to return home with renewed clarity and confidence to live healthy, productive lives.
  • Nutritional Education and Meal Planning: Any binge eating disorder recovery program must include thorough education in the science of nutrition. Patients should address complex and varied eating issues while meeting individually with our dietitian as well as participate in meal planning classes, and attend educational presentations. Education should also be provided about the body’s natural processes for metabolizing and gaining nourishment from food; the importance of meal planning and portion sizes; techniques to be mindful of the body; and practical skills patients can use to continue their recovery after returning home.

Finding a Proper Program for Binge Eating Disorder Recovery

When searching for binge eating recovery programs, you or a loved one should make a 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. Gender-informed care is essential for full recovery; in a world where men are not considered stereotypical sufferers of eating disorders, it can be difficult to overcome the stigma and reach out for help.

At Rosewood, we pride ourselves on providing a full continuum of care for people of all genders. Our therapists and other staff are prepared to address binge eating disorders and other kinds of eating disorder that includes evidence-based methodologies as well as the best eating disorder-informed medical care available. If you know or are a man who is seeking a way to improve your life and live free of binge eating disorder, please reach out as soon as you can. Our admissions specialists can help you get on the road to recovery and a more healthful way of life.

Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.
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