Binge Eating Disorder In Men
Let’s talk about binge eating disorder in men.
In the first episode of my podcast, I talked about men and eating disorders quite broadly and mentioned 4 specific ones:
- Binge Eating Disorder
Each of these does warrant their own deeper dive than I was able to do in that post, and each of them will have such a deep dive.
And this is the one for binge eating disorder. It made sense to start here as it’s the one I have the most direct experience with and it is the one that has caused me the most challenges.
It seems like my own experience with binge eating disorder is probably the right place to start from here.
My Binge Eating Background
To give you some background, I’ve had food binges happen sporadically for most of my life.
It reached the point of switching from occasional unemotional, sporadic binges to a more frequent, disordered eating pattern in the second half of 2020.
FYI, I have been covering binge eating disorder on Youtube quite a bit.
And because I have plenty of personal experience, if you do want to reach out to someone who will be able to listen and relate to what you’re going through and experiencing, feel free to get in touch.
What is Binge Eating Disorder?
The definition I usually default to is that it’s the consumption of a large volume of food in a short span of time, beyond the point of feeling uncomfortably full.
In the UK, according to BEAT, the eating disorder charity, it is estimated to make up 22% of eating disorders and is the most common specifically diagnosed eating disorder in both the US and the UK.
Binge eating disorder is also the most common eating disorder in men. And it’s estimated in the us that 40% of binge eating disorder cases are among men.
- eating quickly
- eating secretly or alone
- eating when you’re not hungry
- trying to hide how much food you’re eating.
And it can also manifest as weight gain – which I will come on to later on as some people (such as myself) have also managed to lose weight with binge eating disorder.
I mentioned that binge eating disorder involves eating a large volume of food. But there is no set definition of criteria for how much food is a “large” volume. It’s not like you have to have had a certain number of calories or a certain amount of specific foods.
My understanding is that it is down to the behaviour pattern, rather than the specific numbers involved.
To give you a couple of examples, I have had binges on fresh fruit before. 1kg of fresh fruit sitting in your stomach might “only” be 800-1,000 calories but it feels like a hell of a lot when it is in your gut. On the flip side, I have also had binges of cereal, granola, and ice cream that involved a lot less food by weight but would have been 3,500-4,000 calories.
From memory, I haven’t gone beyond that many calories in any of my binges, but I have also seen accounts on Reddit, Youtube, and Instagram of people having binged on 10,000-15,000 calories before as well.
So it is a very personal experience.
What Does A Food Binge Feel Like?
To a lot of people, it seems like it should be simple enough to just stop eating, so the question of “why don’t you just stop” can come up quite a lot.
But that’s not how binge eating disorder works and it would help to understand what it feels like to someone in the middle of a binge.
And it is very difficult for someone else to wrap their head around it if they have never experienced it.
The best way I can describe is to imagine you’re watching a movie or something on TV and you see the main character in the process of doing something that you know is going to be harmful or damaging to them in some way and you end up shouting at the screen for them to not do it.
Of course, they’re not going to be able to hear or understand you and anything you yell is going to have zero impact on the events actually unfolding.
To me at least, that is what binges feel like. I am conscious they are happening and I feel like I am yelling at myself to stop, but it’s like my body is on the other side of the screen and can’t hear my voice.
That all probably sounds weird but honestly, that is the only way I can think of that gets even close to describing what it feels like in the middle of a binge.
It just ends up running its natural course until it’s done. If someone was to put a physical barrier in place, or hold me down, or take me somewhere else, that would probably work. But it does feel like not being in control of your own body for that time you are bingeing.
How Do You Feel After A Food Binge?
You can’t talk about how binge eating disorder feels without talking about the absolute wreck you might feel like after a binge.
There’s a combination of nausea and bloating, alongside some shame, guilt, and regret. Don’t forget the embarrassment you feel because you keep telling yourself you should be able to do better than this and you should be able to control yourself.
Binge eating disorder is formally recognised as a psychiatric condition but that doesn’t stop us from blaming ourselves again and again after each binge.
My Experience With Binge Eating Disorder
I have talked about my own experience with binge eating disorder as a man before but for completeness, we’ll go over it again here.
Cheat Days And Binge Eating
I mentioned before that I have always had a tendency for occasional binge eating.
When I started to lose weight, I was pretty strict and had a lot of discipline with my diet. And if there were any treat days, cheat days, or special occasions I could be comfortable with throwing the rulebook out the window, and having whatever I wanted.
There was never any sort of mental or emotional reaction and I could get back on track easily the next day.
The same applied if I screwed up my diet even a little bit. I would give in and indulge on that day and then get back on track the next day. (By the way, please don’t do this!)
Intermittent Fasting And My Sweet Tooth
To understand how I went from sporadic binges to a disordered eating pattern, it’s important to understand my history with weight.
I was working from home well before Covid came along and made it the norm. I wasn’t going out much or walking much and I gained a bit of weight during that time.
The weight I feel my best at is around 73-75kg, and I was around 78-80kg. So not too far off, but just a bit more than I wanted to be.
When covid came along and we were all dealing with mental health issues, it crept up to 82kg.
I don’t remember what led me to it, but alongside walking a lot more, I started doing intermittent fasting. And it brought my weight down pretty easily. By the time I stopped trying to lose weight, I was around 71-72kg.
With intermittent fasting, I just found I was fuller on much fewer calories.
Before I had tried this, I was probably on 2700-2800 calories a day when my maintenance level is probably closer to 2300-2400. When I started intermittent fasting, I was feeling pretty full on 1500-1600 calories.
I was also mindful of not wanting to go too low on calories so I would stick to what I was doing and allow myself something for dessert, around 400-500 calories to being myself up to 2,000.
That dessert habit did get conditioned into me though and I still haven’t shaken that habit yet.
Covid Career Chaos
A couple of months into the pandemic, I lost my job, but I was lucky enough to be able to find another one in the summer of 2020. And I would be working directly with the CEO of a software company.
If you imagine a checklist of toxic traits of a bad boss, this CEO probably ticked a lot of them. And it was a hugely stressful experience.
I remember one very vivid Friday evening in August 202.
It had been a very stressful week and I was at my breaking point.
I should add that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about my work situation. There was a mixture of emotions from already having lost one job, to wanting to bail on the job in the middle of the pandemic that I felt like I was already very lucky to get.
So I just kept that inside.
By this particular Friday, I was physically exhausted and mentally drained. I had dinner as normal at home with my family. I went upstairs to finish off some work then I came back down to unwind and watch TV.
Because I was so busy earlier, I didn’t have the dessert that I would normally have. So I decided to have something when I went downstairs later on. But because I was still stressed, tired, emotional and feeling a general sense of anxiety, that dessert didn’t quite hit the spot.
So I got myself a bowl of cereal, and then the floodgates opened from there that night.
As I said, I have been prone to some binges before but I think this was the first one that I felt was triggered by an emotional need.
And that weekend I ended up doing the same thing on both Saturday and Sunday.
There was this mix of emotions – regret for how I ate on Friday, despair about my career prospects, and general fear and anxiety about how things would pan out (which I guess is something a lot of us will have felt during the pandemic at least at some stage).
One Binge To Binge Eating Disorder
Since then, food binges had become a more regular occurrence and something of a coping mechanism.
Based on my past behaviour and personality type, I likely would have ended up with binge eating disorder sooner or later, regardless of that night. It’s just that was the tipping point for me.
Coping With Binge Eating Disorder
My experience with binge eating disorder does have a happier continuation. I am still prone to occasional binges, and they are much less frequent and tend to be smaller in scale, but it is still something I need to be mindful of.
So I can’t call it an ending, but I am in a much better position.
I left that toxic job a couple of weeks later and joined a much better company a few weeks after that.
And because my binges very rarely got to the scale or frequency that it was causing other health issues, I haven’t had to deal with long term health consequences that can come from binge eating disorder.
I was (and still am) prone to bloating and nausea after binges but I learned how to let my body recover and I get back to feeling my normal self within a couple of days when it does happen.
So fingers crossed, the worst of it is behind me and not I just need to stay on top of my physical health and mental wellbeing.
Other binge eating disorder sufferers are of course not in the same position and may have a lot more to deal with and I have to keep reminding myself how fortunate I am that I seem to have at least broken out of the spiral I was in.
Causes Of Binge Eating Disorder
If we’re looking at causes of binge eating disorder we need to bear in mind that as with any other eating disorder or mental health issue, there isn’t one specific or universal cause or trigger.
Everyone will have different causes and in some cases, it might be more than one cause that ties in with each other.
Some of the most common ones for binge eating disorder include:
- Body image issues – If anyone has ever criticised, or reinforced something about your body, or if you feel particularly sensitive or maybe even disparate about an aspect of your body. That can include weight, height, muscle size, hair, or pretty much anything else
- Control issues – For example if you have issues with managing your food as part of a food control or weight control plan. If there is a food you love and you ban it completely for a bit, when you have it again, your cravings may go into overdrive and portion control may feel difficult.
- Coping mechanism – This could be for a whole host of things – loss of a loved one, broken relationship, other emotional trauma, a condition such as anxiety or depression, or PTSD, and others.
- Past history of emotional eating – Even if you haven’t been prone to binges before, and maybe even if you have only been prone to occasional boredom eating, you may have conditioned eating as a response to an emotion or sensation you don’t like so when you are dealing with other emotions, you may be more prone to looking for comfort in food.
In my case, binge eating disorder was really caused by a combination of things:
- Past (and present) body image issues
- An emotional relationship with some foods
- History of sporadic binges
- Just trying to cope with the things life was throwing at me at that point
Common And Uncommon Binge Triggers
To clarify, when I refer to binge eating disorder causes, I am referring to the conditions that lead to the eating disorder.
When I refer to binge triggers, those are the immediate or short-term events that cause a specific binge.
Just wanted to clear that up in case there was any confusion.
Sometimes binges do just happen randomly without any obvious trigger, but more often than not there is something that does trigger that specific binge.
And sometimes they will tie in with the underlying cause of what caused binge eating disorder in the first place.
For example, if you are stressed at work, then an offhand comment about needing to work late or being told something you did wasn’t good enough might lead you to seek comfort in food.
Then if you have a history of emotional eating, that can kick in and you end up temporarily losing the ability to moderate or control your portions.
As I said, there might not be a single obvious spark and it could be an ongoing sense of unease or discomfort. For example, think back to the early stages of uncertainty and fear when the pandemic happened and lockdowns were imposed.
And in my case, my common ones are pressure, work stress, feeling like I screwed something up and messing up my diet.
I’ve also had a few less common binge triggers too.
They felt very weird at the time.
I once had a binge triggered by listening to a podcast about binge eating disorder. Something about listening to people talking about the foods they love and end up bingeing on just king of led me astray!
Once it happened after a workout. Body image issues kicked in and I was worried that I wasn’t feeling my recovery properly. So I ended up eating more than I planned and dove straight down a rabbit-hole.
I have had binges triggered by the regret of having binged the day before. You get this feeling of hopelessness, regret and sense that you have put your fitness back by months, so you may as well just give in and eat.
I’ve had binged triggered by being called skinny. That also ties in with body image issues, but I started to worry I was looking gaunt so I thought I should eat more and then I struggled to moderate my portions.
And I have also had binges triggered occasionally by feeling “too happy”. When you forget about any mental or emotional issues for a bit, and you’re enjoying yourself but then suddenly find you’ve eaten a bit more than you normally would.
You get paranoid and you throw in the towel and you end up eating a lot more. So It’s almost like you allowed yourself to relax and because you’re relaxed, you almost like tell yourself you screwed something up.
I have some of the common ones and I’ve had some sort of “out there” ones as well. But it’s important to remember everyone has different triggers and they are specific to each individual.
Some are more common than others but they’re all valid.
Health Impact Of Binge Eating Disorder
There are a few health impacts to consider with binge eating disorder – both mental and physical.
Depending on the scale and frequency of the binges, it can lead to weight gain. That in turn can lead to other health risks such as the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
It’s not just a mental health issue in itself, it can also amplify existing issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress,
Social isolation can also be pretty common. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed to be going out or being seen out, or you worry about a binge being triggered – or how you would handle things if a binge did get triggered. There may also be some unease with any changes in body shape or weight.
As an immediate impact, binge eating can also lead to sleep problems, chronic pain, and digestive issues.
And then even just on a day-to-day basis, if you are in so much pain because your stomach feels swollen, for example, even basic movements may feel tough.
Common Myths About Binge Eating Disorder
As with all mental health issues, there are a few misconceptions about binge eating disorder. So I’m just going to run through some of those.
It Only Affects Overweight People
The most common myth is that it only affects overweight people.
It is commonly linked to weight gain either because people at a higher weight are more prone to it or with the volume of food being consumed, weight gain is a common outcome.
But that doesn’t mean only people over a certain weight are affected or that everyone who has it gains weight.
I am living, breathing proof of that. Even with binge eating disorder, my BMI never went higher than 23 (25+ is considered overweight, 30+ is considered obese), and I lost weight while tackling the worst of my binge eating disorder.
I was active throughout that period when it was at its worst, and the scale and frequency of my binges weren’t enough to override the overall lifestyle I was leading.
We Only Binge On Junk Food
We often associated food binges with junk food but binge eating can happen with any food.
I have already spoken about bingeing on fruit before. It’s not massively high in calories compared to other foods that are commonly binged on, but the actual volume of that much fruit can make you sick.
Imagine having a kilogram of food sitting in your stomach and how you might feel.
Also, my go-to binge food is most often homemade protein cookies. The only ingredients are oats, protein powder, banana, peanut butter, some sweetener and some dark chocolate chips. It’s great in terms of nutrition value, but I can inhale a lot of these bad boys in one go.
Yes, junk food and refined foods are more common. If you have a history of emotional eating, they are much more likely to be our go-to foods so when we are turning to food for any kind of emotional or mental distress we will turn to them. Plus they are processed to create a certain specific taste and eating experience.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t end up bingeing on less processed or more wholesome foods either.
Binge Eating Is Only Because Of A Lack Of Willpower
Another common myth is that people only binge because of a lack of willpower.
I talked about this where I mentioned what it feels like to be on a binge and how difficult it can feel to take back control of your own body. You’re fully aware of what is happening and of what your body is doing, but unable to stop it.
As I said, it’s like watching yourself and screaming at yourself not to do it, but just not being able to stop it.
Binge Eating Disorder Only Affects Women
As I mentioned before, binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder amongst men, and it’s estimated that around 40% of binge eating disorder sufferers are male.
Again, I am living proof that it does affect men too.
Binge Eating Disorder Is The Same As Bulimia
Some behaviour patterns do overlap between bulimia and binge eating disorder.
Specifically the pattern of binge eating.
With bulimia, however, there is – for lack of a better word – “compensatory” behaviour. In other words, a concerted, and often unsafe effort to “undo” what was eaten. This can be through excessive exercise, inducing vomiting, or taking laxatives.
That attempt to compensate at a more extreme level doesn’t feature in the clinical definition of binge eating disorder.
Binge Eating Disorder Isn’t Dangerous
There’s a misconception that binge eating disorder isn’t dangerous.
Compared to other eating disorders like anorexia, for example, you are much less likely to be malnourished when you have binge eating disorder because of the volume of food you are getting in.
But that just means the health risks are different, not necessarily less dangerous.
Especially if it impacts your weight, it can lead to long-term health risks around heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes.
The physical recovery from a binge can have a knock on effect on your day-to-day life.
I used to be a fitness instructor and I remember having a horrific bout of sickness when I tried to instruct my classes one morning having binged the night before.
People who have binge eating disorder may also have a greater risk of developing substance abuse issues.
There are also mental health issues around depression and anxiety.
And as I already mentioned, you may become or may feel isolated or feel like isolating because there’s this shame or embarrassment from having binged.
How To Manage Binge Eating Disorder
If you are prone to binge eating or suspect you have binge eating disorder, let’s look at some of the things you can do to help manage it.
And I need to emphasise that I’m not professional or qualified to give you treatment advice on any eating disorder. For that, you’ll need to speak to a doctor, a dietician or a therapist.
Getting Professional Help
There are professional help options available, often involving therapy, behaviour change and addressing issues around the underlying cause of your eating disorder.
It may also include weight loss therapy if that is deemed a concern and a problematic issue. This could involve lifestyle changes, guided nutrition, or an exercise or activity plan.
On that note, though, if you are dealing with binge eating disorder and want some help with figuring out your own nutrition or exercise plan, please do feel free to reach out to me. I already mentioned I can’t treat or advise on treatment for any eating disorder, but if you need help with some nutrition or some training plans, I’m more than happy to help.
Managing Symptoms And Triggers
In terms of managing your symptoms and triggers, honestly, all of these are going to be easier said than done. And they do take a lot of practice and they do take a lot of work as with all mental health issues. There are no quick fixes or instant solutions to make them go away.
Non Food Rewards
I’d say the biggest one is to try and find non-food rewards or stress relievers. So whether that’s meditation or sport or a hobby, something active that you can focus your energy on. Something that’s going to maybe use your hands.
That way, when you feel triggered, you have something else you can turn to to help handle or process those emotions.
Remove Physical Access To Binge Foods
If you do feel a binge coming on, you can also try putting a physical barrier between you and food.
It might be something like changing your settings. So if you start to feel a little bit stressed, go for a walk or get in the car and go for a drive.
And if you can, stay out long enough until that feeling or that inkling has gone away.
If you feel comfortable, you can also use your friends and family to help you with that.
Find Something With More Fulfilment
This is the one that really worked for me.
And that is finding a purpose or something that gives you more enjoyment than whatever relief binge eating would give you.
It’s hard to put into words that will explain it clearly, but let me explain what happened to me.
When I first started exercising years ago, I fell in love with running. And fairly recently I had rediscovered that passion for it.
I feel amazing after a good run, and I absolutely cannot stand the feeling of a bad run. If I feel bloated and heavier after a binge, I won’t be able to run anywhere near as well and won’t get that runners’ high.
Somewhere along the road, that feeling became strong enough that I could actually slow down my binge cravings and say to me “if I binge now, I won’t be able to run properly tomorrow.”
So rather than anything that a binge would do to help me in the heat of the moment, it’s almost like I had a bigger purpose that was set up to give me more fulfilment than any easing of pain than the binge would have done. And I could kind of regain control of my own actions that way.
That explanation may have been a bit convoluted. But imagine if you’re in pain for whatever reason, and you feel a binge coming on, it’s telling yourself that rather than relieving, whatever’s causing that pain by binge eating now you’ll be feeling so much better if you wait until this next run.
And how you’ll feel after that and that’ll be worth it.
Get Comfortable With Discomfort
No matter what you do, this is the most important thing to brace yourself for.
You will need to get comfortable with discomfort from handling and processing and coping with your triggers and the urge to binge.
It isn’t easy, but from experience, I don’t think there is a way around that discomfort – you just have to go through it.
If we give in to a binge urge now, we’re temporarily relieving ourselves of any discomfort, only to end up having to face it again the next time the urge pops up.
That discomfort may also manifest in between, as you’re recovering from one binge.
So, unfortunately, you will need to get a little bit comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.
But if you have a mechanism in place like a non-food reward, that can help you handle or process that discomfort and make it much more bearable.
Wrapping Up About Binge Eating Disorder In Men
So that’s a rundown on binge eating disorder in men.
As I mentioned, I cover a lot on YouTube.
And if it is something you’re dealing with any age or gender (yes I know most of my content is more targeted to men but don’t let that stop you), any background, and just want someone to listen to you, please do feel free to reach out to me here.