Beating binging stigmas

Béibhinn Thorsch

Disordered eating is one of the best-known examples of mental health disorders, but it’s time to look past discussing anorexia and bulimia as the main forms of eating disorders.

The main symptom of Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is eating very large amounts of food in a short period of time, usually in an uncontrolled way. Though it is often seen as a disorder that affects mostly / only women, men also experience the harsh reality of the disorder – including the stigma which comes alongside it.

Irish mental health advocate, Aidan O’Connell (@EndTheStigma_ie) told the The College View that there is a stigma where he is seen as “a lazy slob”. He said “I have been forced to lie, I feel guilty, society points out that males should have a six-pack. Society judges me in a shop if I am holding anything sweet.”

The HSE says that binges are often planned in advance, with the individual buying special foods to binge on. Warning signs of the disorder, according to the HSE, extend to trying to hide how much they eat, frequent changes in weight, and storing up supplies of food.

Though the exact causes of BED are not known, the HSE says you are more likely to get an eating disorder if your family has a history of addiction, you have been bullied or abuse, have been criticised for your eating habits or body, or have other issues with confidence and self-esteem.

The disorder is often easily hidden from those close to the individual as simply putting on weight.

“It’s all hidden. I even pull my stomach in when meeting a date off Tinder…” O’Connell said, “I don’t have diabetes or cholesterol [issues], but if you don’t have regular blood tests, huge hidden danger of diabetes 2 and serious health issues.”

Recently comedian Joanne McNally has come out as a recovering anorexic, however, O’Connell feels there should be an equal focus on this issue.

He said: “I’m sick of talk of anorexia when the extreme applies in binging as well.”

O’Connell explained that he first developed the disorder three years ago, as a result of medication he had been prescribed for anxiety.

According to, 85 per cent of people with eating disorders worldwide find it difficult to seek help in the form of treatment.  In Ireland, 188,895 will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives. A 2012 study of Irish adolescents found that disordered eating was more prevalent above girls than boys. This is true in O’Connell’s case, as he says he is aware of mostly women who have the disorder.

If you wish to approach someone who you suspect has the disorder, has helpful resources which encourage friends to inform themselves about eating disorders and how to handle the conversation of the disorder. They give information on how to be understanding while also negotiating a way forward together.

Often approaches to help are met by resistance and rejection, however, it is important not to take this personally especially if the person suggests that you do not value them as they are.

Treatment for binge eating disorder comes in the form of self-help programmes, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and now medication. CBT programmes for this disorder including planning out meals until you adopt regular eating habits, discovering triggers for binge eating, managing negative feelings about your body, and sticking to new habits.

While some medications may help to treat anxiety, depression, OCD, or social phobias which trigger BED, there are now medications such as Mysimba which target the physical health side of the disorder. This is the medication that O’Connell has been given, which has given him hope for the future.

“I take one day at a time. I hope to lose the weight and have a beautiful girl beside me,” O’Connell said.

Béibhinn Thorsch

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