The condition can occur on its own or alongside other disorders or diseases.
- Binge eating disorder differs from bulimia, as there is no purge after the binge.
- People with the condition feel they have no control over their eating.
- Depression and other psychological factors can trigger the condition.
- One bingeing session can consist of up to 20,000 calories.
- Obesity is a possible complication.
Binge eating is a compulsion that has serious psychological and physical effects.
When people have a binge eating disorder, also referred to as compulsive eating, they frequently eat very large amounts of food.
This compulsion is known as a binge.
In some cases, 10,000 to 20,000 calories of food may be consumed in one bout of bingeing. The average person consumes between 1,500 to 3,000 calories per day.
However, there are varying definitions for a binge. It may typically last a couple of hours. Some experts, however, say a binge may last up to a whole day.
In many cases of binge eating disorder, there are no clear signs or symptoms.
Weight gain is the main sign of binge eating disorder. A significant proportion of people with the disorder are overweight.
The following signs and symptoms of obesity, as well as potential consequences, may include:
A person with binge eating disorder may also:
- crave sugar
- experience stomach pain
- find high or low temperatures difficult to bear
- have more frequent headaches
Psychological characteristics include:
- a cycle of guilt, starting with despair at being trapped in a binge, followed by guilt then an attempt at self-discipline before bingeing again
- low self-esteem
- self-blame, which further damages self-esteem
The following psychological problems may be underlying or may occur as a consequence of binge eating:
A person with a binge eating disorder may typically:
- have periods when huge amounts of food are consumed
- eat even when full
- eat rapidly during a bout of bingeing
- feel that the eating behavior is uncontrollable
- have depression
- have anxiety
- diet frequently without any success
- often eat alone
- hoard food
- hide empty food containers
- feel remorse, shame, guilt, disgust, despair about their eating.
When to see a doctor
As binge eating is behavioral, it can often be the case that a person will not recognize that the habit has become a medical issue until their body weight increases to a level that will impact health.
It is therefore very important to see a doctor as soon as you feel that it has become a compulsion or addiction to eating excessive amounts of food.
The issue can cause feelings of embarrassment and isolation, but it is crucial to act on the advice of people close to you if they have identified destructive patterns in the way you consume food.
If you regularly experience related conditions, such as depression or anxiety, and find yourself binge eating, it is important to address these underlying causes with a physician.
What is binge eating disorder?
A person with a binge eating disorder feels compelled to eat too much. Individuals will consume enormous quantities of food, even when they are not hungry.
Binge eaters believe they have absolutely no control over their eating.
After a bout of binge eating, a person might feel disgust and guilt. These feelings may form part of an underlying problem, such as anxiety or depression, but both conditions can either cause or exacerbate the disorder.
Most people occasionally eat too much food, helping ourselves to seconds and even thirds, especially on holidays or festive celebrations. This is not a sign of binge eating disorder.
Binge eating becomes a disorder when it occurs regularly, and the binger consistently feels shame and secrecy. The person with a binge eating disorder is deeply embarrassed about overeating and vows never to do it again. However, the compulsion is so strong that subsequent urges to gorge themselves cannot be resisted.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that the moods of college-age women who are concerned about their self-image and diet tend to worsen after bouts of disordered eating.
In many parts of the world, binge eating disorder is not considered a distinct condition. However, it is the most common of all eating disorders. This may change as more research is published and scientists learn more about the condition.
The following have been suggested as risk factors for binge eating disorder:
- Age: Although people of any age may be affected, the first signs of binge eating disorder will frequently start in the late teens or early twenties, suggesting that age plays a role.
- Other eating disorders: People who have or had other eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, are at a higher risk of developing binge eating disorder.
- Related conditions: Conditions such as Prader-Willi disorder, a lesion of the hypothalamus gland, can trigger binge-eating reactions.
- Dieting: Dieting is a risk factor for bulimia and anorexia. Some people with an eating disorder have never dieted, while others have a history of dieting. More studies are needed to confirm dieting as a risk factor.
- Mental health problems: People with binge eating disorder act impulsively and feel that they lack control over their eating. A higher percentage of people with binge eating disorder have problems coping with stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, boredom, and worry. It has been suggested that there may be a link with depression.
- Sexual abuse: Some individuals with the disorder report that they experienced sexually abuse when they were young.
- Society's expectations: It has been suggested that the media's focus on body shape, appearance, and weight may be a trigger for binge eating disorder. Social media has been linked to this factor.
- Biology: The development of binge eating disorder may be linked to biological vulnerability involving genes as well as brain chemicals. Current research is looking at how the appetite regulation of the central nervous system may affect people's eating habits. There may also be clues in how the gut functions.
- Occupation: There is some looming evidence that a higher percentage of athletes and models have binge eating disorder compared with other people. Although some people suggest that individuals who work in catering may be susceptible, further studies are required to confirm the link.
The prevalence of binge eating disorder is not known. This is partly due to the tendency of bingers tend to be secretive, and also down to the varying definition of the disorder between different treatment centers and physicians.
One study suggests that binge eating disorder affects up to 3.5 percent of females in the U.S. and 2 percent of males.
Therapy is an effective treatment option for binge eating disorder.
Treatment is usually aimed at:
- reducing the frequency of eating binges
- improving emotional well-being
- when necessary, losing weight
Binge eating is closely linked to negative emotions, such as guilt, shame, low self-esteem, and self-disgust. These need to be addressed, as well as some other psychological problems.
Anybody who suspects they may have binge eating disorder should seek medical help as soon as possible.
The following are effective therapies for eating disorders:
- a self-help program supervised by healthcare professionals
- psychological therapy
- a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant, such as Prozac, for people with severe binge eating disorder
In therapies for binge eating disorder, the individual is encouraged to stop relying on the guilt-bingeing cycle as a way of coping with emotional problems. The following types of therapy have been shown to help people with binge eating disorder:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): The therapist helps the individual seek out new ways of interpreting and dealing with situations, feelings, and food.
- Support groups: Joining and attending self-help and support groups can help to remove a sense of isolation
- Self-help books: There is a wide range of self-help material available that can help you monitor food intake, make realistic meal plans, discover and address your triggers, and identify the underlying causes of the behavior. Self-help courses are best received in a "guided" capacity, with the treatment being supported and overseen by a healthcare professional, usually a therapist.
- Psychotherapy: The treatment of binge eating disorder may involve regularly meeting with a therapist who helps a person understand the causes of their anxiety and ways to accept their strengths and weaknesses. This often involves interpersonal therapy, which focuses on relationships with other people. If poor relationships and unhealthy communication skills have contributed to binge eating disorder, interpersonal therapy may help.
- Weight control: For the person to reach an ideal body weight, existing underlying psychological problems first need to be addressed. An individual who is overweight should follow a weight-loss plan set up by a qualified healthcare professional.
A person may not recognize binge-eating habits until they have caused overweight and adverse health effects.
Although there is no definite way to prevent the disorder, there are steps that can help reduce the risk, including:
- Keeping a food diary: By keeping a food diary, the person with binge eating disorder may be able to eventually identify which eating patterns, or types of food, tend to trigger a sudden and false sense of hunger.
- Eating low-sugar foods: Foods with a low glycemic index will release sugar more slowly and more consistently throughout the day.
- Increase eating frequency, but reduce portion size: In order to maintain blood sugar levels, eat smaller meals more frequently and be sure to include complex carbohydrates.
- Avoid sugary foods, alcohol, and caffeine: Cut out all foods and drinks that cause severe fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.
The varying definitions of binge eating disorder mean that there are also different recommendations for prevention.
Pediatricians are often able to identify the early signs of an eating disorder that begins in childhood and take steps to prevent its development. Parents should cultivate and reinforce a healthy body image in their offspring from an early age, regardless of their body size or shape.