Binge eating is an officially recognised disorder that is thought to affect around 150 million people worldwide, it is also associated with other lifestyle diseases like diabetes and high cholesterol. Eating disorders like binge eating and bulimia are not simply biological issues, they are tied to behaviour and mental health. That is why these conditions are categorised as psychiatric disorders.
What Does A Binge Eating Disorder Look Like?
Binge eating is characterised by eating excessive amounts of food in a short period, whether you experience hunger or not. This may be triggered by some emotional factor or it may be something chronic that occurs regularly. If you think you might have a binge eating disorder look for the following symptoms:
- You find yourself eating much faster than usual
- You eat so much that you experience discomfort from the amount of food
- You eat large meals even when you are not hungry
- You experience negative emotions toward yourself (shame, disgust, guilt or embarrassment), both before and after eating
- You eat alone due to shame
These symptoms are not a means to self-diagnose an eating disorder, but if you notice 3 or more of these then you should seek professional help.
What Are The Causes of Binge Eating Disorders?
The causes vary depending on each particular person's case, for some their binge eating may be associated with temporary stress, for others, there may be deeper issues.
Structural Changes In the Brain
There is some evidence that suggests changes to the brain structure may be involved with binge eating. In people with a binge eating disorder, it was noted that self-control was lower while the response to food was heightened. It remains to be seen whether binge eating causes these changes to the brain structure, or the changes cause binge eating. The truth may lie somewhere in between, with both these factors creating a feedback loop.
Similar to the previous point, obesity can be both the cause and result of binge eating. Not all people with obesity have a binge eating problem, but up to half of those suffering from obesity experience some form of binge eating.
Negative Body Image
Binge eating is very often linked with having a negative body image. This may be further exacerbated by factors like dieting, overeating, self-dissatisfaction and stress.
It is important to note, having a history of binge eating is a very common symptom. A childhood history of being bullied about weight can also result in prolonged negative body image, making the likelihood of developing a binge eating disorder higher.
Many people experiencing binge eating have associated psychological conditions that either trigger or affect this condition. Depression, certain phobias, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and chronic stress may all contribute to developing or worsening this disorder. While these components are chronic in nature, other temporary psychological conditions may also trigger binge eating episodes such as abuse, trauma, death of a loved one, life changes and more. For many people, binge eating may act as a coping mechanism and produce a hit of dopamine temporarily, but it is usually followed by the previously mentioned feelings of shame and guilt.
Risk Factors for developing a Binge Eating Disorder
Genetics may play a big role in your risk of binge eating, if your body/brain has a higher sensitivity to dopamine, you may feel increased levels of pleasure and reward when eating. Some evidence even suggests that this kind of sensitivity and consequent development of binge eating may be hereditary.
Another risk factor is gender, women are more likely to experience binge eating in their lives than men (although binge eating is the most common eating disorder in men). The precise mechanism is not known, but it is thought to have biological causes.
Depression is also one of the most commonly associated risk factors for people who binge eat.
Effects and Treatments for Binge Eating
This disorder may lead to severe physical and mental consequences if left untreated. Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease are all possible effects of binge eating. While these issues may be common in people who are overweight, it has been found that people who binge eat are more likely to suffer these effects than people who are obese but don’t binge eat. Body pain, poor sleep and digestive issues may also occur with chronic binge eating.
Treatment may involve cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy, weight reduction therapy and even medication. Usually, it will be some combination of these treatments. In cases of extreme obesity associated with binge eating, surgery of the stomach may also be suggested. The main goal of the treatment is to help and support the person to develop a healthy relationship with food while cutting down on the risks of binge eating.
Binge eating may be more common in people over 20, but it can happen to anyone at any age. In most cases, people with this disorder are undergoing tremendous mental strain due to this disorder and require support and assistance from loved ones and professionals. If you or someone you know may be experiencing binge eating, please speak with a trained medical professional at the earliest. Whether you are at a risk of developing this disorder you can still incorporate several habits to keep you healthy. One strategy is to eat only healthy foods, this way even if you occasionally overeat, the effects will be lower (although even healthy foods can cause a negative impact when taken excessively). Another option is to make exercise a daily ritual, it can be something as simple as taking a daily walk or a fitness plan with a trained professional. Lastly, getting regular sleep is an often overlooked aspect of health. It can provide a multitude of benefits when done correctly while the lack of regular sleep may have severe health effects.