Men, Depression and Eating Disorders

Men, Depression and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not all the same. There are of course the well-publicized disorders anorexia (in which the person does not eat sufficient amounts of food) and bulimia (in which the person binges on large amounts of food and then purges by intentionally vomiting). There is also binge-eating disorder in which the person eats excessive amounts of food on a regular basis but does not purge.

Eating Disorders are Not Just for Women

Eating disorders are most common among women. It is often speculated that there is partly because an inordinate amount of emphasis is placed on physical attractiveness in women, and that society in general and the media in particular portray and insist upon unrealistic and unattainable ideals of feminine beauty.

Although eating disorders occur most often in women, many people erroneously assume that they occur only in women. Eating disorders, especially binge eating disorder, occurs in men as well, although probably for different reasons.

Although there is often less emphasis placed on male attractiveness, the encouragement to attain a standard of physical perfection is nonetheless present. And, just as with girls, parents of boys may inadvertently contribute to an eating disorder by placing undue emphasis on physical traits.

Eating disorders, as with other disorders such as drug addiction, also may result from high stress levels. A study of eating disorders among military personnel shed light on the prevalence as well as possible causes of eating disorders among military men and women. In her study, Navy Captain Peggy McNulty found rates among active duty military men of 2.5% for anorexia, 6.8% for bulimia, and a whopping 40.8% for other types of eating disorders. In addition, 49% of the men studied who did not meet the criteria for an eating disorder nonetheless occasionally displayed disordered eating behavior including dieting, intentionally vomiting, and using laxatives or diet pills.

McNulty concluded that the demanding, high stress lifestyle of the military contributes to a high incidence of eating disorders among Navy personnel, both men and women.

How Depression Can Trigger an Eating Disorder in a Man

There are many factors that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Depression may contribute to the development of an eating disorder in the same way that it can contribute to the development of drug or alcohol addiction. Some people simply seek comfort or escape by using food the way that others use drugs. Binge eating in particular may be an attempt to “self-medicate,” as opposed to anorexia which is usually borne of a pathological fear of weight gain.

Food can also be addictive in the same way that drugs are addictive. Seeking escape in food can become a comfortable habit that is hard to break. In addition to this, however, certain foods, especially those high in sugar, release dopamine in the brain the same way that drugs do (which is one reason addicts going through withdrawal are often counseled to have sweet, sugary foods on hand to help ward off cravings for drugs).

Treatment for Depression and Eating Disorders

Cognitive behavioral therapy is proven effective in treating eating disorders as well as depression. Since the two conditions occurring in the same individual are almost invariably interconnected, it is critical to treat both conditions simultaneously.

If you would like help finding treatment for eating disorders and depression, please call our toll-free 24 hour helpline today.