Binge eating is a pattern of disordered eating. It affects more people in the US than anorexia or bulimia nervosa. Though eating disorders are generally associated with women, nearly 40% of people with binge eating disorder are men. Binge eating was traditionally viewed as a symptom of other eating disorders. It is now recognized as a true disorder that is now part of the recently published DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Like other eating disorders, it has both psychological and social components. Men with this disorder struggle with the urge to binge, then feel shame after a bingeing incident. This can become a vicious cycle that increases binges and leads to unhealthy weight gain and obesity. The good news is there are treatments available.
Binge eating disorder is a loss of control over your eating. It is different than eating associated with normal weight gain. People with this disorder have an unhealthy connection to eating that leads to compulsive behavior. During a binge the amount of food eaten is larger than most people would consume in a similar amount of time. The excess amount of food is often eaten in less than 2 hours. In addition to binge eating, people with this disorder will experience some of the following:
- A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode
- Eating until they feel uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when they do not physically feel hungry
- Eating alone because of embarrassment at how much they are eating
- Feeling disgusted with themselves, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
The bingeing may occur at any time of day or night. It is a cycle of eating, shame, and despair. Bingeing often becomes secretive which may make it difficult for family and friends to recognize that there is a problem.
There are many factors associated with the development of a binge eating disorder. It is usually a combination genetics, environment, and other factors. Here are some common characteristics found in people with binge eating disorder:
- Problems dealing with emotions, such as anger, sadness, worry, or boredom
- Rigid, inflexible, controlling, perfectionist
- Difficulty expressing feelings and needs
- Avoids conflict and works hard to please others
- Sensitivity to critical comments about weight, appearance, or body shape
- Low self-esteem
- Past experience with being bullied
- Social isolation
It is not clear if these factors lead to an eating disorder or are caused by the disorder, but they are often present together.
Men with symptoms of binge eating disorder need to seek treatment as soon as possible. Early treatment can minimize the amount of weight gain and perhaps prevent obesity. Binge eating disorder is treatable and may include one or more the following:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy or behavioral counseling (alone or with a group) to find and control triggers
- Counseling to achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Treatment of any underlying disorders that contribute binge eating
People with binge eating disorder can also be treated with:
- Antidepressants—rebalances brain chemicals associated with mood
- Anticonvulsants—helps control binge eating episodes
- Anti-obesity medications—helps control appetite
Binge eating disorder is a complicated problem that can go on for years. If you feel you or a loved one needs help, contact your doctor and get started on treatment plan.
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Last reviewed October 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
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