TODAY   |  August 20, 2012

Speaking out about male eating disorders

Eating disorders have long been thought to be women’s diseases, but new research shows that nearly equal numbers of men and women suffer from binge eating disorders. Psychotherapist and former binge eater Andrew Walen speaks about breaking eating disorder stereotypes.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> this morning on "today's" health, binge eating , eating disorders have long been stereo typed as a woman's disease. new research finds binge eating is a problem for both men and women. abbey ellen wrote a "new york times" article called binge eating among men, steps out of the shadows in which she profiles andrew who didn't realize he had an eating disorder until he was in his 30s. today he's a psychotherapist and runs a treatment center in maryland. abbey and andrew are here along with chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman . good morning to all of you. good to have you here. andrew , let me start with you, with this struggle you had with binge eating . this was a couple of years ago. tell me about how you evolved from recognizing what eventually ended up being an eating disorder .

>> i think where it all started, my sense of being an emotional eater even dates back to age five where that was a period when my parents divorced and i was looking for comfort and looking for it in the kitchen cabinet . that pattern continued until i was actually obese around age 10. by 12, i was on weight watchers . it just started that diet mentality that led to restriction and weight gain until i was 17 and over 200 pounds and put on a medically supervised weight loss program. that slipped my eating disorder into an anorexic period. even though i did lose a lot of weight very quickly, i certainly was not any happier.

>> your relationship with food, then, was clearly all based on emotion.

>> clearly it was. also body image concerns. it was soothing the fact that i never was happy with myself.

>> dr. nancy, so much we often hear about eating disorders as a woman's problem. we're learning binge disorders actually affect men and women equally, right?

>> they do. we just hit on the most important thing. i think that is sort of self-loathing, depression. when you don't like yourself you release these stress chemicals, cortisol which makes you feel hungry. it's not unusual for a man to sit down and consume 5 to 1500 calories at a time. makes you feel full, calms you. you feel isolated because you've done it alone, you gain weight. it's a very, very dangerous thing. it does not have the bulimia, purging aspect many people think overeating does that increasingly stigmatizes and thin isolates men. a lot of these eating disorders seen as women's problem, it's one more hurdle for men to step forward .

>> andrew were you consuming 5 to 15,000 calories in these binge eating scenarios and how often were you doing that?

>> what i really want people to remember, it's not so much about the quantity of food that you're eating, it's the psychological impact, the damage of eating that large amount of food. that really is what people need to be concerned about. for me personally, i can certainly, you know, say that my binges would include things like going to mcdonald's drive-through in the morning and having several breakfasts and staying in my car and eating it in secret or going to a lunch buffet and eating a large number of plates of food or having a chinese dinner delivered to the house, enough for a family but just eating it by myself.

>> abbey you write about this disorder in "the new york times" article. what struck you. you talked to other men besides andrew . what struck you about them.

>> what struck me about andrew , he's also a psychotherapist. he went through the disease, he suffered from im and helping people. he can caulk about it from both perspectives. what struck me most about the men, most of them didn't want to lk about it. they felt like it was a woman's disease and a woman's problem and they didn't want to talk about it and that got in the way of their getting healthy.

>> increasingly these are psychiatric illness that manifest themselves with food, depression, isolation, aagoraphobia, et cetera . i'm sure you as a specialist, we would agree you can't just treat the food, you have to treat --

>> people try and figure if i can just diet, if i can just get ahold of the food, if i can just control it i'm going to be better but that's never the case.

>> andrew , you now work with people as a psychotherapist at a treatment center in maryland. what are some of the signs or symptoms people should recognize to get help.

>> a lot of binge eaters don't recognize again these are about emotional triggers. i'll be asking them things about how is your mood. do you feel like you're happy at work, being productive, your social relationships . are you feeling connected to people? how do you handle disappointments in life? do you think that food plays any role in that? i'll be look for any of those.

>> really great you're raising attention and awareness to this. thanks for being here and sharing your personal story. andrew , abbey, dr. nancy snyder man.