Men with eating disorders often go undiagnosed
HOST INTRO: Eating disorders have mostly been viewed as issues for women. Now, eating disorders are garnering more attention among men, particularly with binge eating. Claire Pires reports. 00:08
TRACK: Ron Saxen is a former male model who left his job because of his eating disorder. He was a binge eater; someone who consumes an excessive amount of food in one sitting and cannot stop. He says his disorder stems from his traumatic childhood.
SAXEN: My mom used to keep a notepad of our transgressions of what we did wrong. So one night she said ok I’m going to have your dad wake you up when he gets home and whip you.
So, Saxen laid in bed sweating in fear of his dad’s arrival. A thought occurred to him.
SAXEN: And I remembered I had about fifteen pounds of chocolate in the closet for a school candy sale.
Saxen grabbed the Ghirardelli five-ounce milk chocolate bar and ate it in bed.
SAXEN: And while I was eating it, it kind of took me away.
When he finished the candy bar, he remembered that his father was going to come and whip him, so he kept eating more candy bars. He ate over two pounds worth.
SAXEN: Woke up the next morning, bad things didn’t happen to me. Which had nothing to do with the candy. But it taught me that food was a tool in my tool bag so that I could make anxiety go away.
It would take twenty years before Saxen realized that he had an eating disorder that needed to be treated. A recent study said that young men often fail to recognize their behaviors as symptoms of an eating disorder. The study, published in an online British journal, interviewed 29 people in the UK, 10 of whom were men, ages 16 to 25 about their eating disorder symptoms. Dr. Ulla Raisenen, who conducted the study, said there was one common issue for men.
RAISENEN: Men still seem to at least suffer from perceived lack of awareness and they might present very late in their illness when eating disorders are then very hard to treat.
In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from eating disorders, according to a study done in the Textbook of Psychiatric Epidemiology. The National Institute of Health says women are three times more likely to experience anorexia and bulimia during their life compared to men and 75 percent more likely to have a binge eating disorder. The most common eating disorder for men is binge eating. While the causes for binge eating for men versus women are unclear, the drive for men to have big muscles is a factor. Dr. Marian Tanofsky-Kraff specializes in binge eating disorders.
TANOFSKY-KRAFF: There is a sense of a drive for muscularity and so that might involve eating a different way you know going for more healthy, lean foods, working out a lot, which may in fact end up driving a desire to overeat at a different point and that might be perceived as a binge episode by boys.
But wanting to look as big and bulky with no body mass index can lead to a binge eating issue. In a dimly lit gym that smelled of wet sneakers, students lined the light blue wall sweating as they ran on every treadmill.
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Paul Maga walked me through this gym. He’s a tall and lean 22-year-old student who was chubby as a child. He lost weight, but then in college, he began to binge eat to gain muscle mass.
MAGA: My mentality at the time was I gotta tone up, I gotta look good, I have to compete.
PIRES: Compete with who?
MAGA: Everybody out there that’s in my dating pool.
Paul walked past the boys playing basketball
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and stopped next to a student putting away weights.
AMBI: fade up on weights, fade down
MAGA: There were nights where I’d take a protein shake after I came home from the gym, go straight home, do some push ups, even though I came from the gym, and then drink more protein cause I was like I need more protein. So it was like two meals, I’m shoving protein down my throat after having a meal in order to have these muscle gains.
As we left, Maga says he was depressed and unhappy at the time. In a 2011 study looking at how men are affected by binge eating, researchers found 37% of men who did binge eat experienced depression compared to only 13% of men who did not binge eat.
Depression and stress followed Ron Saxen for years after that first night of binge eating two pounds of chocolate. His 6’1 height, flowy blond hair, and cheekbones soon got him into modeling. He’d model during the day and binge eat at night.
SAXEN: I lose control of my binge, have a pizza, three fruit pies, half gallon of ice cream and then the night before and the next morning, try to exercise it off.
His modeling career didn’t last more than a few months.
SAXEN: I had gotten up to almost 300 pounds and I finally decided to take a step and actually step into a therapist’s office.
Dr. Judith Brisman says focusing on food and weight is a way to distract patients from what is actually bothering them. She tries to solve this in treatment.
BRISMAN: So the work with an eating disorder is to make sure that you say, if you weren’t thinking about the food or the weight, what would you be thinking about? And that’s what we have to try to solve.
Saxen wrote a book called The Good Eater. He now lives with his wife in San Francisco, California. He says he doesn’t have an eating disorder any more, but it never quite goes away.
SAXEN: It was something I did for so many years, that if I could tell myself that I would never do it again, and I could be that sure, I do think that’s a little cocky.
Binge eating was officially designated as a formal diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 2013. Claire Pires, Columbia Radio News.