Binge Eating


Some men are eating 3,000 calories rapidly, in one sitting - more than once a week. They are some of the 2 million plus males who suffer from binge eating disorder. The Premier Issue of Men's Edge tells the story. (2-3/04.) Most experts now believe that anywhere between 40% to roughly half of all compulsive overeaters are guys.

It's no joke to at least 1 million American adult men and possibly twice that many, who suffer from this condition. The great majority of them suffer in silence, going to great length to consume their massive, sometime nauseating binges of high-calorie foods - from mounds of Buffalo wins to gallons of ice cream - in secret, behind closed doors.

Although fighting obesity has become a public health crusade in the early years of the 21st century, it's only been in the last few years that researchers have recognized the existence of binge eating disorder, and the debilitating role it plays in the life of as many as 4 million Americans.

Despite the recent findings, the problem of compulsive overeating is still greatly overshadowed by its two famous cousins in the eating-disorder family: anorexia nervosa and bulimia. That's not surprising, since both conditions - which overwhelmingly attack otherwise healthy young women - can lead to starvation and malnutrition.

Binge eating disorder is most closely linked to bulimia, whose victims also binge on unhealthy quantities of food, but then throw up, or purge. But binge eaters don't vomit. Some exercise compulsively, but the vast majority simply gain weight. Another major difference is that binge eating disorder doesn't discriminate by gender. Most experts now believe that anywhere between 40% to roughly half of all compulsive overeaters are guys.

You probably didn't know that, because there are very few men who will ever admit to suffering from binge eating disorder. Researchers have an easy time finding female participants for studies on binge eating disorder, but have great difficulty recruiting men. Not because they're not there. The imposing wall of silence that guys have built around binge eating may explain why so few folks understand what it is. It's much, much more than simply Biggie Size-ing your fries. To be considered binge eating, you have to feel a loss of control, a feeling that you can't stop. In clinical terms, a binge eater typically consumers more than 3,000 calories of junk food or items that are high in sugar or carbohydrates. He eats rapidly. And he does this often - at least twice a week and usually more. Some of the favorite binges were raw cookie dough, brownie mix, or an entire container of Cool Whip. Often a food binger involves raiding the pantry or refrigerator late at night. For some bingers that means a Brunswick stew of whatever's sitting around - garbanzo beans and a head of raw cabbage. But more typically it's food that is sweet, fatty, or filling - cookies, doughnuts, ice cream, fast food. Some prefer to dine solo in restaurants where people don't know them. It's common to obsess over one particular menu item - ordering Outback's Bloomin' Onion, say, for 15 nights in a row.

But what bingers eat isn't really the crux of their problem. It's how they feel - not so much in their growing bellies as in their troubled minds. Set off by everyday factors like stress, boredom or anxiety, binge eaters describe the experience like a trance, an almost out-of-body experience that they are unable to stop. It's unstoppable, a slow-motion train wreck. Before they're done, the binger doesn't just feel sick to his stomach, but overwhelmed by guilt and even self-hatred.

So, why would anyone do this? Roughly half of binge eaters suffer from clinical depression, prompting a "chicken or egg" debate about which causes which. It may be genetically hardwired. Indeed, researchers in March of 2003 announced in the New England Journal of Medicine that there is a "strong link" between the mutations of an appetite control gene and binge eating disorder.

But many experts feel environmental factors - a dysfunctional family where meals were a reward, or ridicule from other kids of the middle-school bus - loom equally large. Another factor of men may be an increasing emphasis in the media on body image issues like "six-pack abs," an area that was once only the province of women. Yet, the American Psychiatric Association still only considers it a "proposed" diagnosis until its next manual is published.  On newsstands now. (March, 04)

Related Topics: Binge Eating, Eating Disorders

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