Men and Binge Eating Episodes: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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Men and Disordered Eating-Symptoms and Possible Causes

Binge eating research tends to focus on risks or predictors of binge eating behavior. In terms of men and binge eating, stress and body weight concerns are the two biggest risks, but other factors are important, too. For example, some men will use binge eating as a coping mechanism. It’s their way of handling anger, sadness, or some other negative emotion they don’t really wish to address. These emotions are not usually expressed openly because men may feel that no one is listening to their concerns or that they have to appear ‘strong’ and so they suppress them.

A previous history of depression is commonly seen among men who develop binge eating habits, but this is not unique to men. However, there are some psychological risks factors for binge eating which are more often seen in men and boys. A study published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment found specific risk factors for binge eating among young men and adolescents. These psychological causes included insecurity, higher levels of anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms consistent with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Some studies follow people for long periods of time to see if an event (i.e. smoking) predicts an outcome (i.e. lung cancer). These are called cohort studies, and they are often used to identify environmental predictors of an illness. One such study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found an interesting predictor of binge eating among teenage boys. Boys who received negative comments about their weight from their fathers had an increased risk for binge eating. While this was also true for teenage girls, this was the single environmental predictor for boys.

Men and Binge Eating Treatments

There is not a great deal of research focusing specifically on men and binge eating. So, it is difficult to judge if any treatment works better for men, but there appear to be two effective treatments for those who suffer from binge eating - Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) and guided self-help Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT gsh).

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) was first created to treat depression, but it was quickly adapted to treat eating disorders such as bulimia. The theory behind it is that fixing interpersonal problems is the key to defeating the mental illness. IPT for binge eating typically consists of three phases. The first phase usually has four sessions which focus on the interpersonal context in which binge eating developed and was maintained. This helps to identify the current interpersonal problem areas and once identified, the second phase of IPT aims to help a person make interpersonal changes in these areas. The final stage of the therapy, which is usually three sessions, looks back on the progress made through IPT and also helps to explore ways to solve future interpersonal problems. In terms of time, the first session lasts two hours, but each other session lasts around an hour. In a study by Wilson, Wilfley, Agras, and Bryson (2010) focusing specifically on binge eating disorder treatments, they used nineteen IPT sessions over 24 weeks to treat binge eating disorder.

Guided self-help Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT gsh) is treatment based on the book, Overcoming Binge Eating by Christopher Fairburn. The book teaches the patient about binge eating and the proposed self-help program. The therapy focuses on developing a regular pattern of moderate eating using self-monitoring, self-control strategies, and problem-solving; consequently, the role of the therapist is to provide support and help the patient to stay on track. CBT gsh also encourages relapse prevention through maintenance of behavior change. In the study by Wilson et. al.(2010), treatment consisted of ten sessions which lasted around thirty minutes except for an hour long first session.

In their study comparing binge eating disorder treatments, Wilson et. al. (2010) used CBT gsh as the regular basic treatment, but IPT was used when patients suffered from other issues such as low self-esteem or high eating disorder psychopathology. These treatments were then compared to behavioral weight loss (BWL), a standard treatment for binge eating disorder focusing on calorie restriction and exercise. Immediately after treatment, little difference existed between the groups in effectiveness. However, by the two year follow-up, BWL was not effective for those with self-esteem issues, and the other two therapies where found to help people reduce or stop their binge eating more effectively than BWL.

Still, it is unclear if there is a difference in treatment effectiveness for men, and more research needs to be conducted to answer such questions. As always, your doctor should be consulted before trying any treatments for binge eating.


Field, A. E., Javaras, K. M. Aneja, P. Kitos, N. Carmargo, C. A.,Taylor, C. B., & Laird, M. N. (2008). Family, Peer, and Media Predictors of Becoming Eating Disordered. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 162(6), 574-579.

Franzoni, F., Monti, M., Pellicciari, A., Muratore, C., Verrotti, A., Garone, C., Cecconi, I., Iero, L., Gualandi, S., Savarino, F., & Gualandi, P. (2009). SAFA: A new measure to evaluate psychiatric symptoms detected in a sample of children and adolescents affected by eating disorders. Correlations with risk factors. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 5, 207-214.

Understanding Binge Eating Disorder in Men. Retrieved from on June 29, 2011.

Wilson, G. T., Wilfley, D. E., Agras, W. S., & Bryson, S. W. (2010). Psychological Treatments of Binge Eating Disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 67(1), 94-101.