WHAT IS BINGE EATING DISORDER?

Eating disorders aren't all about 'not' eating or trying to be as thin as possible, binge eating disorder (BED) is quite the opposite. Those living with binge eating disorder feel like they can't stop eating, even if they wanted to. They will often regularly eat large amounts of food in a fairly short period of time (the 'bingeing' part) and feel out-of-control to stop themselves. Some people refer to it as food addiction or compulsive eating, but it all means the same thing.

Binge Eating Disorder isn't simply being greedy or just eating large portions of food. It's not an issue of willpower. Many of them will eat, even when they're not hungry. The binges that those with the condition undertake often treat it like a ritual, buying 'special' foods to eat and doing it in a 'special' place. The severity of the condition will dictate how often the binge eating episodes occur; one or two episodes per week if it's 'mild', right up to twice a day in extreme cases.

It's not about the type of food, but more the amount of food they eat. They will often do it in private, or as inconspicuously as possible, to overcome the embarrassment of the amount of food they are eating. Afterwards, they will feel guilty and disgusted with themselves.

Those diagnosed with binge eating disorder will either be relying on food as a crutch for their emotional support or needs, or will be using it to mask how they really feel. They may having underlying conditions like low self-esteem, depression or anxiety.

Unlike those with bulimia, people with BED won't attempt to purge their system of the food they've eaten afterwards. As a result, those with BED will tend to be overweight. Being overweight or even obese isn't an eating disorder in itself, but can be a consequence of those with BED.

Binge eating disorder does bring with it many additional health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, various heart conditions or, in extreme cases, kidney failure. Clearly there is more at stake than just your eating habits or mental wellbeing.

THE SYMPTOMS

Many of symptoms that highlight binge eating disorder, are shared with bulimia nervosa. They include:

  • Recurring episodes of binge eating that take place within a discreet time period. The amount of food will be much more than what most people would eat in the same period.
  • No control of their eating habits.
  • Eating until they are uncomfortably full or eating even when they're not hungry.
  • Eating alone or in secret.
  • Feelings of disgust or guilt after binging.

WHAT CAUSES BINGE EATING DISORDER?

Despite what you might hear, binge eating affects men and women in roughly equal measures (and only slightly more in females) and is more common in adults that younger people. This is probably because, as children, our food intake is generally governed by what our parents or guardians provide.

There is no one singularly definable cause for binge eating disorder. As we said, it often masks underlying issues such as depression or low self-esteem. Family history can play a part in developing the condition. Also if someone has a history of long-term, 'yo-yo' dieting issues, then that can be a contributing factor.

WHAT TREATMENTS ARE AVAILABLE?

One of the best treatments for binge eating disorder is a good dose of self-help. There are a number of strategies you can use to help yourself, outside of medical intervention. We have a whole section of on various ways you can do this here.

If your symptoms are persistent and self-help doesn't....well...help, you may be recommended for psychotherapy. These can include a DBT (in a modified form), CBT or IPT. It's rare for someone with binge-eating disorder to be admitted to hospital, but you can become an outpatient where you will gain better understanding on nutrition, diet and meal-planning.


If you live with (and have had) binge eating disorder, there may be some organisations on our Where To Turn pages that can help you. If not, and you know of one, please let us know and we'll look into it.

Also, if you'd like to share your experiences of living with the condition with our community, please take a look at our 'Men Tell' section.