Eating Addiction and Treatment
Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders don’t just affect women – they affect everyone. According to the National Institutes of Health, of those with eating disorders, 35 percent of binge eaters are male and 5 to 15 percent of those with anorexia or bulimia are male. If your relationship with food has led to an addiction, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start, but you are not alone in your struggle and should not feel ashamed of seeking help.
Binge Eating in Men
Binge eating occurs when someone eats large amounts of food very quickly, often to the point of feeling physically uncomfortable or ill. Some men who binge will follow an eating episode by purging, or throwing up, to try and compensate for eating such a large amount. Binge eating is usually a means to escape certain feelings, memories or stresses, but the relief is only temporary until the depression, guilt, shame and anxiety kick in.
What Is Food Addiction?
Food addictions occur when a person is physically and mentally "hooked" on consuming large, uncontrollable amounts of food. Certain foods, like chocolate, are associated with increasing the amount of the feel-good chemical in the brain known as dopamine. The extra dopamine causes a person to crave the high experienced when eating that food or ones like it. This can create a seemingly never-ending cycle of eating, even when a person doesn't want to eat or has tried many times to stop.
How Does Food Addiction Affect Men?
Recognizing food addiction in men can be difficult. Culturally, men who have big appetites are accepted and stereotyped to prefer eating a large meal over a healthy, portion-controlled one. Men can use food as an emotional "crutch" for stress, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness that they may not be able to express otherwise. Many men may recognize that food is an issue in their lives without realizing that it is a food addiction.
Symptoms a man may have a food addiction include:
- Always eating more than planned
- Becoming preoccupied or fearful you may not be able to get a certain food
- Being afraid of going out in public because of how much you'll eat
- Eating food causes you to experience feelings of anxiety, anger, depression or frustration
- Eating to the point of feeling sick, but not being able to stop
- Finding yourself eating more and more food as a means to feel better, though it rarely works
- Going out of your way to get certain foods
Being a food addict doesn't mean that you are always overweight. There are many men who suffer from food addiction and obsessively exercise to try and maintain their weight or control their physical appearance.
Effective Treatments for Food Addiction
Treatments for food addiction can be complicated, sometimes even more so than treating an addiction to drugs or alcohol. While the eventual goal for drug or alcohol addiction is to keep from using the substance, men need food to survive. Therefore, treatment relies on establishing a healthy relationship with food and having a team of specialists help you learn how to break the cycle of food addiction.
Examples of these experts could include a doctor, nutritionist and psychologist. When you are ready, there are also support groups such as Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, which can help you find a long-term support system.