Compulsive overeating is a huge problem amongst American adults, though it gets minor media coverage in comparison to most other serious, addictive disorders. Because of this, many individuals who face compulsive overeating or binge eating disorder (BED), face both misunderstanding and stigma. Despite widespread stigma, the Journal of American Medicine estimates that over one-third of American adults are obese. It is also estimated that over 30 percent of overweight Americans have been diagnosed with a binge eating disorder. There are many contributing factors when it comes to overeating; biological and genetic factors play a large role. Neurobiology plays a very important role as well, seeing as it is a set of hormones that prompts us to eat by determining hunger and satiety levels. Once this information is determined, our brains either instruct us to continue eating or to stop eating. Those suffering from BED will continue eating despite their brain’s instruction to stop. Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by the consumption of excessive or abnormal amounts of food, while feeling a complete lack of control and powerlessness over when to stop. Those diagnosed with BED typically experience binge eating episodes at least twice a week for at least six consecutive months.
The Psychology of BED
In addition to biological, neurobiological, and genetic factors, psychological factors play a major role in the development of this specific disorder. Over time and with extensive research, a strong correlation has been determined between binge eating and depression. Unresolved trauma may also trigger individuals to begin binge eating. Many BED sufferers have been found to simultaneously suffer from a history of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. Underlying issues such as low self-esteem, long-standing emotional pain, and body dissatisfaction have been shown to contribute to the propensity to overeat. Negative feelings often precede a binge; feelings like anxiety, shame, anger, and self-loathing. While these feelings may be briefly numbed by an excessive intake of food, the negative feelings after a binge are even more compounded – leading to a vicious cycle of emotional turmoil and attempting to assuage painful feelings with food.
There are many signs and symptoms when it comes to BED, but if you believe that you or someone close to you is struggling with this disorder, there are several telltale signs to look for. Those who suffer from BED will continue eating once they are full, or begin eating despite the fact that they are not hungry. During binge episodes, they will consume a disproportionate amount of food over a short period of time – more than what others might eat under similar circumstances. Most binge episodes will continue on until the afflicted individual is either uncomfortably full or physically ill. The vast majority of episodes will occur in private – those suffering from BED are extremely secretive about their eating patterns, and do their bingeing while alone. In order to attempt maintaining a ‘healthy’ weight, many BED sufferers will continuously go on and off diets. Of course, just as is the case with other addictive disorders, attempting to control intake will prove fruitless. The only chance at real, long-term recovery is professional intervention.
Men and Compulsive Overeating
Most eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, have been deemed ‘feminine disorders’ by the perpetuation of societal stereotypes. Because of this, many men who struggle with food-related disorders fail to come forward and seek professional help. While it is true that half as many males suffer from eating disorders during the course of their lifetimes (10 million American men as opposed to 20 million American women), male eating disorders are still exceedingly common throughout the United States – and the number of annual cases continues to grow. Binge Eating Disorder is the most common eating disorder countrywide, affecting 3.5 percent of the female population, 2 percent of the male population, and 1.6 percent of adolescents. Roughly 40 percent of all those suffering from BED are male. Men with BED are often even more secretive than their female counterparts, seeing as the existing stigma often leads to a greater sense of shame and self-loathing. Although weight gain is a common symptom of compulsive overeating, many men with BED will exercise compulsively in order to keep their weight under control. This is especially true of younger men. Other common side effects of BED are type II diabetes, heart disease, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
It is important to note that eating disorders, like all other mental illnesses, do not discriminate based on age, race, or gender. Men are just as prone to developing Binge Eating Disorder as women, and suffer psychological, emotional, and physical consequences comparable in severity. To learn more about men and eating disorders, or to seek help for an existing, food-related disorder, please feel free to contact us today.