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Eating disorders a guy
thing too, study finds
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April 30, 2013
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This research summary adds perspective to several key
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the article. The links and hilights are mine. -
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Contrary to the long-held
belief that anorexia and bulimia are female afflictions,
the first national survey on eating disorders has found
that one-quarter of adults with the conditions are men.
The study estimated that about 850,000 men had suffered
from the disorders and, despite two decades of intense
attention to the conditions, had gone largely
"This is a very important finding," said Ruth Streigel-Moore,
an eating disorders expert at Wesleyan University who
was not connected with the study. "It suggests a need to
move away from gender-based explanations."
The researchers said the findings, which appear today in
the journal Biological Psychiatry, indicated men are
vulnerable to the same social pressures that lead some
women to uncontrollably binge and purge on food and
others to starve themselves.
"Body image has become more important among men," said
co-author Dr. Harrison G. Pope Jr., a professor of
psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "There's a large,
silent population of men who might be quite ill."
Overall, the survey found that
4.5% of adults, or 9.3
million people, have struggled with an eating disorder
sometime in their lives. Anorexia accounted for 1.3
million of the cases, and bulimia 2.1 million. Binge
eating, a disorder of frequent, uncontrollable periods
of gorging, accounted for the largest number of cases,
The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard
University Medical School, was based on information
obtained from the National Co-morbidity Survey
Replication, a mental health survey of nearly 9,000
adults across the U.S.
Funding for the study came from several sources,
including the National Institutes of Health and
pharmaceutical companies Eli Lilly & Co. and Johnson &
Johnson, both of which sell drugs that are used as
off-label treatments for eating disorders.
The survey found
the prevalence of eating disorders has
been rising since World War II. The lifetime risk of
18-year-olds developing an eating disorder is twice that
of their parents, according to the report.
Role of fast food
Researchers haven't pinpointed
the cause of eating
disorders but said heredity and the environment,
including a societal obsession with thinness and the
proliferation of calorie-laden fast food, are factors.
People with anorexia are obsessed with their body weight
and diet to the point that they become dangerously thin.
Half of the people with the disorder binge on food and
then purge by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics.
The other half restricts the food they eat and
excessively exercises. The disorder is fatal in 10% of
People with bulimia eat a lot of food in a short amount
of time and then try to prevent weight gain by vomiting
or taking laxatives to get rid of the food.
Bulimics also may exercise or use diuretics to keep off
extra pounds, but they generally maintain a normal body
weight. It also can be fatal.
Dr. Walter H. Kaye, director of the eating disorders
program at UC San Diego, who was not involved in the
research, said that men with eating disorders may have
escaped attention because they are less likely to seek
psychological help in general and because the extent of
their illnesses may not be as severe.
"It could be that eating disorders are associated with
women, so men may not even recognize eating disorders in
themselves," he said.
Buffeted by fitness craze
Pope said the findings showed that men too had been
buffeted by the fitness craze of recent years.
"The cynical interpretation would be that all the
industries that have preyed upon women have saturated
the female market and are turning their attention to the
other 50% of the population," he said.
One of the key findings of the survey was the length of
time that the disorders persisted.
It found that
bulimia and binge eating persisted for an
average of eight years, while anorexia was far more
transient, typically lasting for one year.
Kaye, who is researching the genetic basis of eating
disorders, said the finding about anorexia was puzzling.
The medical community has long regarded anorexia as a
chronic condition, he said.
"I have been doing this for 25 years, and I know a
number of people who have died and have been chronically
ill for many years," he said.
Jeanine Cogan, policy director of the Washington-based
Eating Disorders Coalition, worried the finding might
cause some to dismiss the severity of the disorder.
"Anorexia is not just a passing phase," she said.
Binge eating is not considered a life-threatening
condition. Nearly 15% of people with binge-eating
disorder are severely obese, which can lead to heart
disease, diabetes and other serious health problems.
More than half of binge eaters are women.
As with anorexia and bulimia, binge eating is associated
with mood disorders.
Pope said that
binge eating is not the same as eating
too much. "These are people who sit down to have a
couple potato chips and all of a sudden they can't stop
eating, and they want something sweet, and they want
something salty, and the next thing they know they are
completely stuffing themselves," he said. "It is quite
different from the munching you would do watching the
Binge-eating disorder isn't classified as an official
medical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, the bible of the
Dr. James I. Hudson, lead
author of the report, said the latest findings argued that
it should be included, which would allow patients to receive
insurance reimbursement for treatment.
A key premise in this Web site is that a high percentage
of non-biological human problems are caused by
"Eating disorders" - anorexia nervosa, bulemia, food
binging, and food addiction - are among such common
didn't focus on the cause of "eating disorders," tho
it notes a correlation with "mood disorders." I propose that
including compulsive overeating, are unconscious attempts to
caused by unacknowledged psychological wounds. "Comfort
foods" (e.g. fats, sugar, starch, and carbohydrates)
reliably promote temporary emotional relief like other
statistics reported in the study are probably understating
the prevalence of male eating disorders, because males are
typically more reticent to admit health problems than
females. A common psychological wound in both genders is
including minimizing ("I may overeat a little.") and denial
("I do not have an eating disorder.") This has hindered
recognizing the scope of the silent [wounds + unawareness]
that is relentlessly spreading and crippling our families
and our culture.
This study and Los Angeles Times/Yahoo article help to
correct this gender misconception. Unfortunately, the
article also promotes the
outdated Freudian belief that addictions are "illnesses,"
rather than symptoms of family dysfunction and unconscious
attempts to reduce major psychological discomforts.
- Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
perspective, see these related research summaries:
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April 30, 2013