What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder is marked by periods of food deprivation followed by a period of excessive food consumption. During episodes of binge eating people are driven by an intense desire to consume excess amounts of food.
Often these food choices are those that are unhealthy or that they have been forbidden to have. These eating patterns provide short-term relief from painful emotions but, eventually, the emotions return, and usually with more intensity.
This disorder is a serious but treatable condition. Episodes of overeating that are classified as binge eating can significantly and negatively impact your health and well-being, making it especially important to identify the signs and symptoms of binge eating, and to get help when necessary.
Signs and Symptoms of a Binge Eating Disorder
People who binge eat often do so in secrecy, hiding their activities because they feel shame or guilt about what they are doing. If you suspect that you or a loved one has fallen into this unhealthy pattern of eating, you should look for some of these signs and symptoms:
- Eating large amounts of food quickly.
- Eating alone or eating in secret.
- Hoarding or hiding food without reason.
- Feelings of guilt or shame around eating.
- Dieting continually but not losing weight.
- Dramatic fluctuations in weight gain or loss.
- Expressing feelings of perfectionism.
- Expressing feelings of low self-esteem.
If you observe some of these signs or symptoms in yourself or a loved one, you should consider speaking to a health expert to find out more about what is going on, and if it needs to be addressed by a health professional.
What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating affects people of all races and genders, and is caused by a combination of social, psychological, and emotional factors. The desire to binge eat may start as early as childhood and this pattern of eating often runs in families.
It is unclear if dieting and binge eating are related, though strict dieting sometimes make the problem worse. Some research has shown that trying to restrict food intake or follow a very restrictive, low calorie diet may actually trigger the desire to binge eat. About half of all people with binge eating disorders will binge right before starting a diet.
If you are experiencing significant distress around eating, and have had at least one binge eating episode a week for three months or more, it is important for you to take the next step and seek treatment.
How is binge eating disorder treated?
The good news is that people can recover from a binge eating disorder. Therapists work closely with each individual to understand how their unique biological, psychological, and social factors have contributed to their condition. If you have an eating disorder you can expect that your mental health professional will consider several interventions, including medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. Nutritional changes, exercise, and stress management have all been found to be helpful in curtailing binge eating behaviors. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which involves combating the ways of thinking that promotes binge eating has also been found to be helpful in stopping these episodes.
FAQs About Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, certain cancers, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and gallbladder disease.
The disorder affects about 2% of the general population and 8% of people who are obese.
No. Compulsive overeating is eating more food than needed. Binge eating involves recurring episodes of compulsive eating, usually in a short time, often when not really hungry.
Both binge eating and compulsive overeating involve eating in reaction to certain feelings, but not everyone who overeats suffers from compulsive or binge eating.
Binge eating disorder is not directly passed down genetically, but it is usually the result of psychological and environmental factors.
It is common for people who experience binge eating to also experience other psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse. Individuals who binge-eat may also find themselves using other disordered eating or behaviors such as purging (vomiting or laxatives to remove food from the body), increasing food restrictions, excessive exercise or physical activity, or distorted body image.