What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Almost everyone overeats from time to time, for example taking an extra helping at dinner, or downing lots of biscuits during a late-night study session. However, if overeating is a regular and uncontrollable habit, you may be suffering from binge eating disorder.
People who binge eat often use food to help them cope with stress and other negative emotions, but their compulsive overeating just leads them to feel worse. Binge eating disorder is more common than bulimia
and affects a significant number of men as well as women. Binge eating disorder is treatable, however, and with the right help and support, you can learn to control your binge eating.
What is binge eating?
Binge eating disorder is characterised by overeating episodes in which people consume huge amounts of food while feeling out of control and powerless to stop. The symptoms of binge eating disorder usually begin in late adolescence or early adulthood, often after a period of dieting. A binge eating episode typically lasts around two hours, but some people binge on and off all day long. People who binge eat often eat even when they’re not hungry and continue eating long after they’re full. They may also gorge themselves as fast as they can while barely registering what they’re eating or tasting.
The key features of binge eating disorder are:
- Frequent episodes of uncontrollable binge eating.
- Feeling extremely distressed or upset during or after bingeing.
People with binge eating disorder struggle with feelings of guilt, disgust, and depression. They worry about what the compulsive eating will do to their bodies and beat themselves up for their lack of self-control. They desperately want to stop binge eating, but feel like they can’t.
The binge eating cycle
Binge eating may be comforting for a brief moment, but then reality sets in, along with regret and self-loathing. Binge eating often leads to weight gain and obesity
, which only reinforces compulsive eating. The worse a binge eater feels about themselves and their appearance, the more they use food to try and soothe themselves. It becomes a vicious cycle: eating to feel better, feeling even worse, and then turning to food for relief.
Ask yourself the following questions. The more “yes” answers, the more likely it is that you have binge eating disorder.
- Do you feel out of control when you’re eating?
- Do you think about food all the time?
- Do you eat in secret?
- Do you eat until you feel sick?
- Do you eat to escape from worries, relieve stress, or to comfort yourself?
- Do you feel disgusted or ashamed after eating?
- Do you feel powerless to stop eating, even though you want to?
Signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder
People with binge eating disorder are often embarrassed and ashamed of their eating habits, so they often try to hide their symptoms and eat in secret. Many binge eaters are overweight or obese, but some are of normal weight.
- Inability to stop eating or control what you’re eating
- Rapidly eating large amounts of food
- Eating even when you’re full
- Hiding or stockpiling food to eat later in secret
- Eating normally around others, but gorging when you’re alone
- Eating continuously throughout the day, with no planned mealtimes
- Feeling stress or tension that is only relieved by eating
- Embarrassment over how much you’re eating
- Feeling numb while bingeing—like you’re not really there or you’re on auto-pilot.
- Never feeling satisfied, no matter how much you eat
- Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed after overeating
- Desperation to control weight and eating habits
- Self-harming which can benefit from wellbeing treatments
Effects of binge eating disorder
Binge eating leads to a wide variety of physical, emotional, and social problems. People with binge eating disorder report more health issues, stress, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts than people without an eating disorder. Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are common side effects as well. But the most prominent effect of binge eating disorder is weight gain.
Causes of binge eating and compulsive overeating
Depression and binge eating are strongly linked. Many binge eaters are either depressed or have been before; others may have trouble with impulse control and managing and expressing their feelings. Low self-esteem, loneliness, and body dissatisfaction may also contribute to binge eating.
One of the most common reasons for binge eating is an attempt to manage unpleasant emotions such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety. When you have a bad day, it can seem like food is your only friend. Binge eating can temporarily make feelings such as stress, sadness, anxiety, depression, and boredom evaporate into thin air. However, the relief is only very fleeting.
How to stop binge eating
It can be difficult to overcome binge eating and food addiction. Unlike other addictive behaviours, your “drug” is necessary for survival, so you don’t have the option of avoiding it. Instead, you must develop a healthier relationship with food,a relationship that’s based on meeting your nutritional needs, not your emotional ones.
In order, to stop the unhealthy pattern of binge eating, it’s important to start eating for health and nutrition. Healthy eating involves making balanced meal plans, choosing healthy foods when eating out, and making sure you’re getting the right vitamins and minerals in your diet.
Strategies for Overcoming Binge Eating
- Manage stress. One of the most important aspects of controlling binge eating is to find alternate ways to handle stress and other overwhelming feelings without using food. These may include exercising, meditating, using sensory relaxation strategies, and practicing simple breathing exercises.
- Eat 3 meals a day plus healthy snacks. Eating breakfast jump starts your metabolism in the morning. Follow breakfast with a balanced lunch and dinner, and healthy snacks in between. Stick to scheduled mealtimes, as skipping meals often leads to binge eating later in the day.
- Stop dieting. The deprivation and hunger of strict dieting can trigger food cravings and the urge to overeat. Instead of dieting, focus on eating in moderation. Find nutritious foods that you enjoy and eat only until you feel content, not uncomfortably stuffed. Avoid banning certain foods as this can make you crave them even more.
- Exercise. Not only will exercise help you lose weight in a healthy way, but it also lifts depression, improves overall health, and reduces stress. The natural mood-boosting effects of exercise can help put a stop to emotional eating.
- Fight boredom. Instead of snacking when you're bored, distract yourself. Take a walk, call a friend, read, or take up a hobby such as painting or gardening.
- Get enough sleep. If you're tired, you may want to keep eating in order to boost your energy. Take a nap or go to bed earlier instead.
- Listen to your body. Learn to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. If you ate recently and don't have a rumbling stomach, you're probably not really hungry. Give the craving time to pass.
- Keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, when, how much, and how you're feeling when you eat. You may see patterns emerge that reveal the connection between your moods and binge eating.
- Get support. You're more likely to succumb to binge eating triggers if you lack a solid support network. Talking helps, even if it’s not with a professional. Lean on family and friends, join a support group, and if possible consult a therapist.
Self help programme to stop binge eating
Research has shown that Guided Self Help approaches to overcoming eating difficulties can be very effective. There are a number of self help guides that can be purchased
, however, at Insighteating you can access an evidence based self help manual which has been used with people with binge eating difficulties and lead to some excellent outcomes.
Treatment and help for binge eating disorder
While there are many things you can do to help yourself stop binge eating, it’s also important to seek professional support and treatment. Health professionals who offer treatment for binge eating disorder include psychiatrists, nutritionists, therapists, and eating disorder and obesity specialists.
An effective treatment program for binge eating disorder should address more than just your symptoms and destructive eating habits. It should also address the root causes of the problem—the emotional triggers that lead to binge eating and your difficulty coping with stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, and other uncomfortable emotions.
If obesity is endangering your health, weight loss may also be an important goal. However, dieting can contribute to binge eating, so any weight loss efforts should be carefully monitored by a professional.
Therapy for binge eating disorder
Binge eating disorder can be successfully treated in therapy. Therapy can teach you how to fight the compulsion to binge, exchange unhealthy habits for newer healthy ones, monitor your eating and moods, and develop effective stress-busting skills.
There are 2 types of therapy which are particularly helpful in the treatment of binge eating disorder:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy focuses on the dysfunctional thoughts and behaviours involved in binge eating. One of the main goals is for you to become more self-aware of how you use food to deal with emotions. The therapist will help you recognise your binge eating triggers and learn how to avoid or combat them. Cognitive-behavioural therapy for binge eating disorder also involves education about nutrition, healthy weight loss, and relaxation techniques.
- Dialectical behaviour therapy combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness meditation. The emphasis of therapy is on teaching binge eaters how to accept themselves, tolerate stress better, and regulate their emotions. Your therapist will also address unhealthy attitudes you may have about eating, shape, and weight. Dialectical behaviour therapy typically includes both individual treatment sessions and weekly group therapy sessions.
Binge Eating Disorder Help
Depending on the underlying causes of your eating difficulties you may be offered a range of different therapies or interventions.