Binge eating is an eating disorder where a person feels compelled to overeat on a regular basis. Binge eating can be very serious and has an impact on both physical and mental health. Binge eating can affect women and/or men but it appears twice as often among women. Binge eating is a mental health condition, but it is also triggered by the effect that the binge eating cycle has on the body.
Binge abnormal eating is marked by the consumption of large amounts of food, sometimes accompanied by a pressured, “frenzied” feeling. People suffering from binge eating consume very large quantities of food over a short period of time and they often eat even when they are not hungry. Binge eating disorder may cause a person to continue to eat even after she becomes uncomfortably full.
Left untreated, binge eating can lead to severe medical problems including high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Untreated binge eating can become part of a destructive cycle which can continue for years and cause significant health problems.
If you want to help someone who is suffering from binge abnormal eating, you need to know some common typical signals:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal;
- Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry;
- Eating alone & avoiding people during eating (because of shame or embarrassment);
- Eating until the point of feeling uncomfortably full;
- Depression, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, disgust and/or guilt after eating;
- History of problems with weight control, big weight fluctuations and emotional problems attached to weight.
Binge abnormal eating can cause weight gain, which can lead to obesity – binge abnormal eating is often associated with obesity, where someone is very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over. It is well known that being obese can also shorten life expectancy.
Binge eating causes
There is no single cause for binge abnormal eating. Like most eating disorders, it is seen as a way of coping with feelings of unhappiness and depression. Binge eating disorder seems to result from a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors.
It is estimated that about 50% of people who binge eat have been depressed at some point in their life. However, it is not clear whether depression causes binge eating or whether binge eating causes depression.
Stress is one of common triggers of eating disorders. Stressful events, such as unemployment, crisis in personal life, family conflicts, problems with friends and/or partners and/or colleagues, fights, problems in schools and/or universities, death of loved ones, etc. can cause binge eating.
Binge eating tends to run in families – the susceptibility to binge eating and/or any of eating disorders might be inherited. People with binge eating disorder often come from families that overeat or put an unnatural emphasis on food (for example, using extra-food as a reward or as a way to soothe or comfort family members).
It was noted that the following life situations can trigger binge eating more often:
- worry or anxiety,
- low self-esteem.
People with eating disorders usually experience difficulties in their personal life. Binge eating persons are often ashamed at the amount of food that they consume and they may also feel that their lack of control around food mirrors the lack of control that they have over their personal lives.
Persons with specific type of behavior could be considered as a risk group for binge eating:
- impulsive behavior – acting quickly without thinking about the consequences;
- alcohol misuse – regularly drinking more than the recommended daily amount of alcohol;
- permanently trying to lose weight – social pressure for achieving a slim body shape;
- avoiding discussing feelings and emotions openly;
- not feeling self-responsible and/or not feeling responsible for personal actions.
- Uncontrolled consumption of food even when full;
- Obsessive thinking or talking about body weight, shape, size, appearance or food;
- Depression, anxiety, or extreme mood swings;
- Unstable weight;
- Eating alone or secretive eating because of embarrassment or guilt;
- Rapid eating pace, mindless eating;
- Self-criticism, low self-esteem, or feelings of worthlessness;
- Urges or desires to consume more and more food;
- Body dissatisfaction, body image distortion;
- Rituals around body checking, exercise, or food;
- Loss of interest in activities, relationships or people;
- Large quantities of money spent on food, restaurants, or at the grocery store;
- Hoarding of food;
- Hidden food or food wrappers.
Although it might not be possible to prevent all cases of binge abnormal eating disorder, it is helpful to begin treatment in people as soon as they begin to have symptoms. In addition, teaching and encouraging healthy eating habits and realistic attitudes about food and body image also might be helpful in preventing the development or worsening of eating disorders.
Different professionals and health institutions are recommending different types of treatment for binge eating.
It is possible to make a full recovery from binge eating by using certain types of psychological therapy such as:
- cognitive behavioral therapy for binge abnormal eating disorder (CBT-BED) – a specially adapted type of CBT that involves talking to a therapist and working out new ways of thinking about situations, feelings and food;
- psychotherapy – regular sessions with a therapist to help you understand what makes you anxious and accept your strengths and weaknesses;
- adapted form of dialectal behavior therapy (DBT) – you discuss all aspects of your binge abnormal eating disorder with a therapist. DBT has been used effectively to treat other mental health disorders, such as borderline personality disorder;
- diet and nutritional advice.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends the following treatments for eating disorders:
- a self-help programme under the supervision of healthcare professionals;
- psychological therapy;
- a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant (in some cases).
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