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Men over 50 suffering from “hidden” eating disorder, and going undiagnosed, says Priory eating disorder expert

  • Eating disorders in men are on the rise, including Binge Eating Disorder
  • Priory expert warns the condition is often missed in men
  • Lockdown has increased the risks
  • Those who suddenly cut down on alcohol can be particularly vulnerable

Eating disorders in older men, such as binge eating disorder, are increasing – but many go undiagnosed, according to a leading Priory eating disorder specialist.

Such eating disorders can be triggered by job loss, divorce or bereavement, or have their origins in childhood, but it is a lot harder for men in general, and older men in particularly, to seek treatment for fear of stigma, while many GPs do not recognise the symptoms.

Dr Eileen Feeney, a Priory consultant psychiatrist specializing in eating disorders, explained that binge eating disorder was characterised by episodes of out-of-control eating rather than consistently overeating on a regular basis.

“People wouldn’t necessarily see it as a disorder, they think ‘he’s just being greedy’ or whatever, but when you actually assess their whole helplessness around trying to control their behaviour once they start to binge, then you actually see it’s a disorder which is having a significant effect on their lives.”

Dr Feeney, who practices at Priory’s Life Works facility in Surrey, which specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, says that in some cases “very overweight” men can seek help from their GP, but the “awareness isn’t there (for GPs) to ask the extra questions on top of the usual cardiovascular examination of the patient”, and the condition can get missed.

Binge eating disorder is unusual in that unlike many other eating disorders, men are also susceptible to it. “Most of the other eating disorders are predominantly female,” explains Dr Feeney, which means the condition is sometimes “hidden” among men. “I think it’s definitely under-recognised in men.”

The condition itself involves eating a lot of food in a short space of time, until a person is uncomfortably full, time and time again. Doing so can trigger feelings of guilt or shame, and the binges often happen alone. Dr Feeney says that older men sometimes suffer from the disorder if “they’ve been drinking a lot, and they’ve tried to cut down”. Those with a history of depression are also known to be vulnerable.

“All forms of mental health problems have been on the rise during lockdown”, says Dr Feeney, and binge eating disorder is no exception. In 2020, Priory Group saw a 26.09% increase in the number of enquiries it received regarding treatment for binge eating disorder at its private clinics, compared to 2019.

Being indoors means there has been “more opportunity” for binge eating, combined sometimes with the “boredom” of having little else to do. Simply being nearer the kitchen is a risk factor, as is the opportunity to order “massive amounts of takeaways”. Signs of BED include:

  • Eating an amount that's larger than what most people would eat in a similar amount of time
  • Feeling that you've lost control over how much you eat
  • Eating when you're full or not hungry
  • Eating rapidly when you binge
  • Eating until you feel uncomfortable when you're full
  • Often finding you eat alone or secretly
  • Getting into cycles of going on and off a diet

But once the disorder is diagnosed, treatment options are available. “Group therapy can be helpful,” says Dr Feeney. “If there’s also depression or ADHD, by treating those things you can really help.” If you or someone you know may be suffering from the condition, the first port of call should be your GP, who can refer you to a specialist. Priory Group offers a range of eating disorder treatments, some of which can be accessed remotely through its online therapy service, Priory Connect.


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About Priory Group

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East.


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