Binge eating disorder is not the same as “compulsive overeating”. A person with binge eating disorder will eat exceptionally large amounts of food uncontrollably in a very short period of time. In a person with binge eating disorder, the binge eating and normal eating occur in cycles where the person will eat normally for a period of time, will have a binge for a period of time then will go back to normal eating and so on.
A binge eater does not obsessively think about food the way a compulsive overeater does. A binge eater typically does not rely on over-exercising, purging, laxatives or other weight control measures to make up for a binge. Hence, a binge eater is usually overweight or obese, though some binge eaters are of normal weight. Binge eating disorder is the most common of all recognized eating disorders.
Common Signs & Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
- Eating large amounts of food very quickly in a short period of time, even when not hungry
- Constantly alternating between losing weight and regaining weight
- Eating alone during times of normal eating due to embarrassment about eating
- Eating until over-full or sick to stomach
- Experiencing feelings of self-disgust, depression or guilt after a binge
- Using food to ease boredom and negative emotions
Binge eating disorder appears as a lack of self-control in the person with the disorder. However, like other mental health disorders the causes and contributing factors of binge eating disorder are complex and varied.
One factor leading to the disorder is chronic strict dieting. Binge eating disorder sometimes develops in a person who follows an unreasonably or unnecessarily strict diet. When the person “messes up” on a strict diet, a binge might occur because the person reasons that she might as well eat all she can because she will have to “start over” on the strict diet again tomorrow (or at some point). A cycle of dieting/binging begins. Other contributing factors of binge eating disorder include:
- Low self esteem
- Overweight as a child
- Physical or sexual abuse in childhood
- Presence of another mental health disorder
- Presence of bulimia
- Pressure from others about weight
The cycle of binge eating and normal eating in binge eating disorder usually leads to poor nutrition, nutritional deficiencies and frequent illnesses such as colds and flu. Overweight and obese individuals might have secondary consequences that arise from being overweight. Health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, poor cholesterol, gallbladder disease and certain cancers are directly related to overweight and obesity. Social inhibition or isolation sometimes occurs due to embarrassment of body size and feelings of low self-esteem or shame.
Many effective treatment strategies are available through professionals trained in treating eating disorders. Treatments include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Interpersonal psychotherapy
- Medications such as antidepressants
- Support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous