Did you know that the online search term ‘binge eating’ has skyrocketed in recent months?
As eating disorder rates soared during lockdown, this is unfortunately not a surprise; however, the misunderstanding and stigmas surrounding binge eating are causing people to turn to Google for support rather than a healthcare professional.
As a Food Addiction Coach, my mission is to break stereotypes and debunk unhelpful myths that hinder people on their journey to health, fitness, and food serenity.
People who binge and compulsively overeat feel compelled to eat when they are not hungry and can’t stop eating when they’ve had enough.
Binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating are almost identical. Compulsive overeaters will say that they cannot control their food intake and lack willpower. They will also say that they are eating for comfort rather than hunger or physical need.
Compulsive overeating affects men and women of all ages and severely diminishes the person’s quality of life.
Understanding Binge Eating Disorder
Evidence suggests that binge eating disorder is more common than other types of eating disorders. It is a serious mental illness whereby people eat large amounts of food without feeling in control of their actions.
People with this disorder do not choose to overeat, nor are they overindulging or being greedy. These binges are usually distressing experiences that do not result in pleasure or gratification for the sufferer.
Binges can have a ritualistic element as the person may plan their bingeing episode, purchase special binge foods, or go to extreme lengths to access food, i.e., eating food that has been thrown away or not properly cooked.
They may eat more food than it is physically comfortable to consume, feel disconnected from their minds and bodies during the binge, and not remember what they have eaten after.
Unlike those with bulimia, individuals with a binge eating disorder will not choose to purge afterwards. However, they may fast in between binges to try to control calorie intake. This can cause strong feelings of hunger, leading to feelings of deprivation and increasing binge eating habits.
People with a binge eating disorder tend to have intense feelings of disgust and shame around their eating habits, which only reinforces the cycle of negative emotions, restriction, and binge eating.
Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
Symptoms of compulsive overeating or binge eating disorder can include some or all of the following, which occur regularly (three times per week or more):
- Eating faster than usual
- Eating past the point of fullness
- Eating when not physically hungry
- Eating alone or in secret
- Feeling upset or guilty after overeating
- Feeling ‘taken over’ or ‘driven’ in respect of eating
- Trying to compensate for overeating by dieting or restraining food or purging (the latter would be bulimia)
The Effects of Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder can have numerous detrimental effects on a person’s physical and mental health, as well as their day-to-day life.
Binge eating disorder can cause:
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Low self-esteem
- Decreased confidence
- Difficulty at work or home
- Increased isolation from friends and family
As a result of binge eating episodes, it is common for the individual to become overweight or obese. However, it is important to note that someone suffering from this disorder can also be within the normal weight range or even underweight. Sadly, this fact is often overlooked when health professionals make a diagnosis resulting in those seeking help not receiving appropriate care or treatment.
Causes of Binge Eating Disorder
There are numerous reasons for binge eating; however, the urge to binge usually arises due to emotional distress. This is known as stress eating or emotional eating.
Stress or emotional eating is a habitual pattern whereby people turn to food as a coping strategy in difficult situations. Emotional eating is both physical and psychological and serves to help alleviate painful or challenging emotions and circumstances.
We can all remember a time when we bought a chocolate bar to cheer ourselves up or ordered a pizza after a draining day at work. However, stress eating becomes a problem when a person emotionally overeats, causing obesity-related health issues, food addiction, and binge eating disorders. This can result in the person being unable to face life’s challenges without using food for comfort.
Everyday situations can become dominated by food, and a person’s health, weight, and mental health can all be negatively impacted.
Enjoying food as a reward, a pleasure, or comfort from time to time is normal; however, when it happens regularly and when food is used to cope with emotions, a pattern of disordered eating can arise, which can lead to physical and mental health issues.
The distinction between emotional eating habits and binge eating disorders is the frequency, nature, and emotional quality of the binge episodes. If you are concerned that food is becoming a primary coping mechanism, either for yourself or a loved one, it is essential to reach out for help.
All of us wish to live a life free from addiction in which we are the best versions of ourselves, happy, joyful, and connected. Through understanding and education, action can then arise.
If you would like to seek help or learn more about any stress eating issues, please contact me, Dr Bunmi Aboaba, Food Addiction Coach, by following this link.