We’ve all been tempted by second helpings of a favorite dish, or head to the buffet spread at a restaurant for the third time – you want to get your money’s worth and try everything, right? But what if you felt compelled to wolf down plateful after plateful of food? A dozen donuts or a full bag of cookies? You just kept eating and couldn’t stop…
What is binge eating disorder?
Binge eating disorder is a serious eating disorder where you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food. What is binge eating disorder? When those second or third helpings associated with overeating cross the line and become part of your routine, this could be binge eating disorder.
One of the notable facts about binge eating disorder is the gorging usually is done in secret, often at night. People are embarrassed about it. They vow to stop, and then resort to night eating under the radar of family or friends. In fact, the signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder can be hard to spot.
Causes of binge eating disorder
First to note: Anyone can develop binge eating disorder, regardless of age, sex, race or weight. One of the important facts about binge eating disorder to get straight is this is not a worry for adolescents alone who are trying to be a certain shape and size to fit in with their peers. It’s much more complicated than “dieting” – it’s a coping mechanism for dealing with life’s challenges; it’s a way to exert some control. Unlike bulimia or anorexia, binge eaters do not throw up their food, exercise a lot, or eat only small amounts of only certain foods.
Binge eating disorder is considered the most common eating disorder in the United States. Women are slightly more at risk for binge eating disorder than men, but men can also get it. Statistics show that more than 6 million Americans – about 2 percent of men and 3.5 percent of women – will have this condition at some point over the course of their lives. Men are more prone to have it in middle age.
So if anyone and everyone is at risk, what are the underlying issues at play? When it comes to identifying the causes of binge eating disorder, there are three areas researchers and therapists consider: Biological, psychological, and social and cultural. Let’s break it down here:
1. Biological: Studies are underway to examine how brain chemicals and metabolism – the way your body digests food and makes use of calories – affect binge eating disorder. There is also research suggesting that genes may be determinants in binge eating. It’s not uncommon to discover the disorder occurs in several members of the same family.
Another link to the disorder is obesity. People who are prone to obesity, because of genetics or other factors, are more likely to develop binge eating disorder compared to those who are not obese.
However, just because someone is overweight does not mean they binge or overeat. Likewise, just because someone is underweight or of normal weight does not mean they don’t binge or overeat.
2. Psychological: We know that mood and depression have a significant impact on our health. When it comes to causes of binge eating disorder, as many as half of those with the disorder are depressed or have been depressed in the past. It also tends to be associated with anxiety, such as phobias and panic disorder, and substance-use disorders.
Binges tend to be triggered by a number of things, including dietary restrictions, hunger and negative moods. But let’s be clear: Binge eaters are not lazy. As with anorexia, binge and compulsive eaters are often perfectionists who like to work non-stop, which makes them more susceptible to binging and overeating. Being a binge eater and managing the eating is hard work.
3. Social and cultural: Environmental risk factors also have an impact. If someone has a history of being bullied or physically or sexually abused, they’re more at risk. The disorder can also result from traumatic life events, such as the death of a loved one or loss of employment. Again, binge eating is about coping and having some control in your life, especially when faced with adversity.
Other risk factors, not surprisingly, include more exposure to negative comments about shape, weight and eating. The strive for perfection – and love and acceptance – is a powerful influencer. Elite athletes, for example, are at higher risk for developing eating disorders in general.
Symptoms of binge eating disorder
- Eating unusually large amounts of food
- Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
- Eating rapidly during binge episodes
- Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
- Frequently eating alone
- Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
- Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating
- Experiencing depression and anxiety
- Feeling isolated and having difficulty talking about your feelings
- Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss
- Losing and gaining weight repeatedly, also called “yo-yo dieting”
After a binge, you may try to diet or eat normal meals. But restricting your eating may simply lead to more binge eating, creating a vicious cycle.
Complications related to binge eating disorder
Other issues related to binge eating disorder include chronic weight management issues. With food as complicit in the addictive behavior, binge eating can lead to weight gain and make it tough to shed extra pounds and keep them off for good.
When we look at how to overcome binge eating disorder, weight loss support programs can be a huge help. While people struggle with strict diets, you want to ask your doctor or other health care professional about a healthy eating plan that includes your favorite foods, within reason! There are also specialized weight-loss programs for people with eating disorders.
As with other eating disorders, binge eating disorder puts people at higher risk for serious health issues. We’ve talked about other emotional or mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Bipolar disorder can also result or be linked to the disorder. People with binge eating disorder are also more likely to develop substance abuse problems.
Of course, obesity brings its own war room of disease: Those who are overweight or obese are also at risk for related issues, including the following:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- type 2 diabetes
- high cholesterol
- gallbladder disease
The disorder can be a downward spiral, making diagnosis and treatment so key to protecting your health and quality of life.
How to overcome binge eating disorder
Psychotherapy can help address the emotional issues which, in turn, help turn people toward healthier thoughts and habits. Working with a nutritionist or enrolling in a weight loss program for people with eating disorders can also be tremendously beneficial. Support group settings can do a lot of good.
You may need to combine therapy with prescription medications. Certain drugs, including antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and possibly some medications that induce alertness and wakefulness, such as amphetamine salts, can help.
Keep in mind, too, as with any eating disorder, lectures, criticism and pep talks focusing on what binge eaters should and should not do, do not help, let alone motivate permanent change. They already know what they should and should not do. Lasting changes and results come from compassion and deeper understanding of the disorder and how it functions. In other words, commenting on their food and exercise choices does not help. Bring in the pros!
If you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms, don’t wait. You can’t fight this alone. Binge eating disorder is a serious illness that requires professional intervention. Now that you’ve got the facts about binge eating disorder, and a primer on understanding the signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder, it’s time to take action.
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