Men and disordered eating

man at workout changehappensIf you’re male and overweight or obese, or afraid of becoming overweight or obese, you might unknowingly be dealing with Binge Eating Disorder, which is not only as more common than anorexia and bulimia combined, but more prevalent among men than any other type of disordered eating, regardless of sexual orientation.

For men in general, eating lots of food has been an accomplishment. I know my father used to brag about how much he could eat. And nowadays, it’s a thing to out-eat your buddies, especially when watching sports or after participating in a game. Food is part of our culture (along with alcohol, which while related, is another issue).

For men, disordered eating happens for a whole host of reasons. Men and women in our society learn from a young age to see their bodies as objects. While women have been objectified for a long time, over the past decade or so men increasingly experience this treatment, with muscles and six-pack abs a desired look. Men work out for hours in the gym in part for “health” reasons, but mainly to boost their confidence so they look better, not just to a desired sexual partner, but to other men as well. For men, a well-cut body is a status symbol.

for men, a well-cut body is a status symbol

When you see your body as an object to be managed, shaped and controlled, the “you” that does this is in your head. Not your body. As a culture, we have lost touch with our emotions, our feelings. Men especially still avoid feeling fear, sadness, grief, disappointment and loss, but find it okay to express anger, albeit only in a ‘manly’ way. (In contrast, women primarily learn not to express anger, less they be called a bitch, a witch, etc.). So for men, food and disordered eating gradually become a way to manage these difficult feelings.

Emotions and feelings come from our bodies and are basically survival tools. And when you shut one off, the others often work less effectively. In addition, the focus on rational intelligence helps men in particular neglect that right-brain emotional intelligence, which includes the gut. When the gut-brain connection is turned down too low and becomes hard to notice, essential guidance is lost. Messages get re-wired in the brain to one over-arching command – eat! Over time, this becomes the predominant program. Something is bothering you? Eat.

It takes courage for anyone to get help for over-eating or compulsive/binge eating, but especially for men. In our society, traditionally it has been more acceptable for women to reach out, while men have viewed needing help as a weakness. Ironically, the opposite is true. It takes incredible strength to know you need support. And to get it.