Binge Eating Disorder
Published on February 20th, 2017
Updated on May 2nd, 2022
Binge eating disorder is a mental health disorder that causes a person to lose control of their eating habits. A person with binge eating disorder struggles to control how much or how often they eat on a daily or weekly basis. The tendency to overeat may tend to worsen when the affected person is stressed or overwhelmed.
People with binge eating disorder will go on overeating binges. Overeating can occur even when the affected person is not hungry or has eaten until uncomfortably full. A person with binge eating disorder may try to diet after a binge to make up for the food consumed.
Binge eating disorder is defined as the inability to control how much or how frequently a person eats on a daily basis. A person with binge eating disorder will eat in excess or compulsively. They will find themselves preoccupied with thoughts and cravings to eat. These thoughts and cravings are more intrusive and severe than simple hunger or indulgence.
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It is common to find binge eating disorder co-occurring with other mental health disorders. Such mood disorders include depression and anxiety. Those with binge eating disorder also have low self-esteem. They may be socially isolated and feel ashamed or embarrassed of their eating habits.
Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
There are several symptoms of binge eating disorder, but being overweight or obese is not one of them. People of all shapes and sizes can suffer from binge eating disorder. The disorder itself does not always result in weight gain or obesity.
Symptoms of binge eating disorder include:
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating quickly and without control
- Overeating when not hungry
- Shame about binge eating
- Flash-dieting or fad dieting with low results
- Preference for eating alone
- Efforts to hide or conceal binge eating behavior
- Feeling out of control of binge eating behavior
- Depressed mood and anxiety after a binge
- Shame, guilt, and disgust about eating behavior
Binge eating disorder can cause an affected person to have difficulty focusing. This impacts their ability to function in different situations, like work, school and social outings. Difficulty with focusing results from factors that include:
- Depressed mood
- Feeling self-conscious about one’s presentation or performance
- Feeling ashamed of binge eating behaviors
Causes And Risk Factors Of Binge Eating Disorder
People with binge eating disorder will often feel like they cannot control their eating. They will eat a lot of food throughout the day regardless of the calories consumed. The habit of binge eating can be caused by several factors that influence the affected person’s life.
Such factors that can cause binge eating disorder include:
Stress And Mental Health Issues
Binge eating is often triggered by stress. Whether it is stress from trauma, loss of work, home, or relationships, a person who suffers from binge eating disorder may turn to food for comfort. Those who have low self-esteem or a poor body image may also be at risk of developing binge eating disorder.
People with binge eating disorder have low self-esteem and tend to not like their bodies. They may also be depressed and eat to cope with emotional stress.
Those who have suffered from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are also at risk for binge eating. A person who has been through abuse or trauma may turn to binge eating for several reasons, including:
- Seeking a sense of control
- Escaping from reality
- Easing emotional pain and suffering
- Punishing themselves for being “undeserving” of love or respect
- Making themselves look “undesirable” to others (often seen with sexual and domestic abuse)
Family, Genetics, and Upbringing
Binge eating disorder seems to run in families. People who have family members who binge eat are at increased risk of binge eating themselves. This trend may be due to different reasons, including:
It is important to consider the behavior modeled for children during childhood. Behaviors that can lead to binge eating can be taught and encouraged by family members. If a person learns poor eating habits as a child, they can develop poor habits as an adult.
Example: If you were taught bad eating habits like using food as comfort, you will learn that emotional eating is a method of coping with stress. You may also learn to use food as a reward or method of celebrating if you were rewarded with food or special meals as a child.
A person with binge eating disorder may be genetically predisposed to suffering from the disorder. They may have family members who binge eat as well, causing them to be overweight or obese. They may also suffer from other eating disorders or have a history of addiction.
Note: Some therapists draw an analogy eating disorders to addiction—i.e. the “eating disorder” functions almost like a drug of choice. Many people diagnosed with a substance use disorder state that they use their drug to distract or escape painful feelings. The eating disorder can function in the same way. It can provide an escape, esteem, and validation. In this way, there are obvious parallels between the two types of diagnoses. The analogy stops there, though. Addicts are addicted to drugs, whereas those with eating disorders are addicted to behaviors- the acts of purging, restricting and bingeing. As such, treatment and recovery take on different tones.
Society, Media, and Advertising
Today’s society puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on people to look a certain way. The subliminal pressure to fit the media’s unrealistic body image can cause a person to develop low self-esteem.
The body image deemed beautiful by the media is often unattainable, but people are still told to feel ashamed for not looking like those seen on TV. People will often binge eat to seek comfort for not being able to look the way they are told they are supposed to look.
Along with pressures from society and the media to look a certain way, people are constantly being exposed to advertisements that promote unhealthy food. Advertisements that promote bad food choices encourage people to overeat, socialize with food, and eat foods that are high in fat and sugar.
Example: Fast food commercials often promote foods based on their huge portion sizes and rewards you get for ordering their food. The quality of the food is poor, but the attention is diverted from the nutritional content to the bargain you get for ordering a meal from their menu.
Binge eating is more than just overeating or making poor food choices. Those with binge eating disorder suffer from deeper issues. Whether it is mental illness, low self-esteem, poor body image, trauma, abuse, or genetics, people who binge eat suffer from emotional and physical pain.
Note: There are ways to stop binge eating and feel better. Through lifestyle changes and therapy, there is hope for a brighter, healthier future. Seeking proper treatment from a medical or mental health professional is the first step to addressing concerns about binge eating.
Warning Signs Of Binge Eating Disorder
Of course, we all overdo it sometimes. There is a line though, between occasionally indulging and binge eating. The first and most significant warning sign of binge eating disorder is when a person struggles to feel in control of their eating.
Those with binge eating disorder will feel out of control of their eating. They will eat when not hungry and may even eat until they are in pain. Binge eating disorder goes beyond the habit of snacking. Those with binge eating disorder will eat quickly and in excess. These binges will occur on average at least once a week and will last for a period of a few hours.
Other warning signs of binge eating disorder include:
- Sudden weight gain
- Changes in eating patterns
- Hiding food or eating in secret
- Attempts to diet
- Sensitivity around eating habits
- Minimizing the emotional impact of eating habits
- Mood swings and issues with body image and self-esteem
Health Effects Of Binge Eating Disorder
People who binge eat tend to have an unhealthy relationship with food. This means they do not see food as only fuel and the occasional treat. People who binge eat use food as comfort for emotional distress. They may also use it as a means of punishment or a means to manage their personal frustrations.
With a pattern of eating, people who suffer from binge eating disorder place themselves at risk of many lifestyle and health consequences. They may struggle mentally, emotionally, and physically. If left untreated, binge eating disorder can also have a severe impact on the body and cause many medical issues.
Binge eating disorder is considered a mental health condition. This means that treatment and recovery programs have been developed to help people who binge eat. These resources are available to people because if left untreated, people with binge eating disorder are left suffering.
If binge eating disorder is left untreated, it has the potential to have some devastating effects on the affected person’s overall health. Binge eating disorder can either stem from or create serious mental health consequences. It will also cause significant medical consequences. These consequences can impact the affected person’s quality of life.
Lifestyle and health consequences that can impact a person with binge eating disorder include:
Poor Mental Health
A person with binge eating disorder is at risk of suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder. This is because a person with binge eating disorder may also suffer from:
- Low self-esteem
- Criticism from others
- Negative self-talk
- Behavioral changes
- Personality changes
- Relationship issues
- Issues with body image
A key reason why mental health is affected by binge eating disorder is that binge eating is an unhealthy method of coping with hurt feelings. People with binge eating disorder mask their emotions and hide away from family and friends. Instead of seeking comfort from loved ones, they turn to food for comfort. In such cases, an affected person may also struggle to control their anger or frustration with themselves. If left unaddressed, this can lead to different forms of self-harm.
There are other mental health disorders a person may suffer from along with binge eating disorder. These mental health disorders may develop as a result of the impact that binge eating has on a person’s self-esteem. There may also be pre-existing conditions that worsen due to using binge eating as a means to cope.
The following are mental health consequences that a person with binge eating disorder may experience:
- Bipolar disorder
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Substance use disorders
Obesity and Diabetes
Binge eating disorder often leads to weight gain and obesity. Weight gain and obesity increase the risk for type II diabetes. Type II diabetes develops when high food intake affects the level of insulin in the body. This makes sugar levels difficult to control.
Type II diabetes has the potential to create devastating health consequences. Such health consequences include the risk of:
- Heart attack
- Permanent nerve damage
- Kidney damage
- Eye damage
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Binge Eating Disorder can cause irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal disorder that causes:
- Abdominal pain
Other Medical Issues
Binge eating disorder can lead to other serious medical consequences, like:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Vision problems
- Heart attack
- Cardiovascular issues
Binge eating has major effects on an affected person’s overall health. The consequences that an affected person experiences are serious, and often require medical attention. The chances of suffering from a medical consequence worsen the longer the binge-eating behavior is not addressed by a mental health professional or medical professional.
Treatment Options For Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is difficult to manage, but with the help of medical and mental health services, it is possible to regain control of your life. It is hard to learn how to stop binge eating on your own, so it is important to seek professional counseling if you are struggling. Resources have become available to those who are struggling to control their binge eating.
When a person with binge eating disorder enters treatment, they will develop a plan for recovery with a mental health professional or their primary doctor. They may be referred to the following methods of treatment:
- Individual counseling
- Group counseling
- Medical care
- Psychiatric care
- Nutrition counseling
The 3 main areas of treatment for binge eating disorder include:
1. Mental Health Treatment
Therapy is an important part of recovery from binge eating disorder. In therapy, a person can learn about why their condition developed. They also learn healthier methods of coping, along with learning how to manage cravings.
The following are types of therapy that may be used to treat binge eating disorder:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps with learning coping strategies to help the affected person regain a sense of control over their eating and cravings.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) helps the affected person understand their emotions and how they contribute to their binge eating. DBT also helps an affected person learn stress tolerance skills.
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT) helps the affected person find the deeper issue that is influencing the need to binge eat. One identified a therapist helps the affected person confront the issue and find healthier methods of coping.
A person in treatment for binge eating disorder may also be referred to support programs. This may include group therapy or community programs like Eater’s Anonymous. Group support programs can be helpful by making the affected person not feel alone in their struggles. In group support programs, everyone is suffering from similar issues. They can support each other in a way that others without the issues may not be able to understand. They can offer insight and suggestions on how to best maintain their recovery, and encouragement to continue to work toward a healthier lifestyle.
2. Physical Health and Medical Treatment
While in treatment for binge eating disorder, it helps to consult with a doctor as well as seek therapy. A doctor can help in addressing issues that are impacting the affected person’s medical health and physical health.
A primary doctor may prescribe medication to suppress appetite as the affected person learns healthier ways to cope. They will also address the medical consequences that may have developed as a result of binge eating and weight gain.
3. Nutritional Counseling
Changes to diet and exercise will be crucial for the treatment of binge eating disorder. It is important to learn how to make healthier food choices and control portions. Nutritional counseling helps by teaching an affected person how binge eating affects their quality of life. It will also help by teaching eating and weight management skills that promote a healthy lifestyle. These skills will prevent symptomatic behaviors from growing and educate the affected person on how to stay healthy.
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