Contrary to widespread stereotypes, eating disorders can affect people of any race, age, gender identity or belief system. Another misconception is that eating disorders are a choice, not a severe mental illness. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, and no two people have an identical experience.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

According to an estimate from the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men will have an eating disorder during their lifetime. While researchers have yet to pinpoint one specific cause of eating disorders, these complex conditions likely stem from a combination of biological, psychological and cultural variables. Due to the interactions of these factors, two people with the same eating disorder can have diverse perspectives and symptoms.

Eating disorder risk factors include the following.

  • Perfectionism: One of the strongest predictors of an eating disorder is having unrealistic expectations for yourself.
  • Distorted body image: People who develop eating disorders are more likely to report higher levels of body image dissatisfaction.
  • Mental health disorders: Eating disorders frequently co-occur with mental health challenges like anxiety, social phobia and OCD.
  • Social isolation: Loneliness is another characteristic of eating disorders, as people with disordered eating patterns may have fewer friends and less social support.

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

While many people occasionally overeat, those with binge eating disorder feel powerful urges to consume large amounts of food. The compulsion to continue eating long after you are full can be nearly impossible to resist if you have binge eating disorder.

Behavioral and emotional signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating unusually large meals over a short time
  • Being unable to control your behavior
  • Eating out of habit, not necessarily because you’re hungry
  • Eating rapidly until you’re uncomfortably full
  • Often eating alone or in secret
  • Feeling guilt or shame about how much you eat
  • Frequent unsuccessful dieting

Unlike with bulimia, people with binge eating disorder do not compensate for their extra caloric intake by vomiting, using laxatives or obsessively exercising. You may try going on a diet or eating smaller meals, but these restrictions could only lead to more compulsive binge eating.

How Does Binge Eating Manifest in Women and Men?

Binge eating is the most common eating disorder in the U.S., affecting all age groups and gender identities. There’s a persistent fallacy that all eating disorders only affect women, but we now know that men account for a significant portion of binge eating disorder cases. Nationwide, up to 3.5% of women and 2% of men struggle with this condition. In women, binge eating disorder typically begins in early adulthood, whereas it usually emerges in men around midlife.

Eating disorders cause significant emotional distress and adversely impact quality of life, and they also have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Besides medical complications resulting from binge eating, purging, malnutrition and over-exercise, suicide attempts are also prevalent among people struggling with eating disorders. Other potential health consequences include organ damage, osteoporosis and electrolyte imbalance.

Talk to Someone Who Understands

Eating disorders can have life-threatening consequences, but sadly, many people face stigma that prevents them from getting an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan. At Rising Roads, we know mental illness affects men and women differently. Our comprehensive women’s-only program covers the cultural expectations of being a woman and the unique stressors that accompany it. To learn more, reach out for help today.