What Is Binge Eating?

Updated October 21, 2020

When people talk about different eating disorders, they typically think of symptoms like following an extremely limited calorie intake and struggling with binge eating. Binge eating is characterized by regular episodes of excessive eating that are accompanied by a loss of self-control and feelings of guilt and shame.

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Binge eating disorder is still newly recognized compared to other disorders like anorexia and bulimia. However, it is still a serious disorder that requires extensive treatment and counseling for recovery. If you think that you or a loved one is struggling with binge eating disorder, read on to learn more about its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Basic Overeating Vs. Binge Eating Disorder

First, it’s crucial to distinguish between the occasional habit of overeating vs. the disorder. Binge eating disorder is characterized by repeated episodes of overeating accompanied by feelings of shame and a loss of self-control. Some people might binge eat or overeat periodically at a special event or a holiday like Thanksgiving. Binge eating disorder, on the other hand, is a serious mental health disorder that can cause serious emotional and physical distress.

Possible Causes Behind Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating can be caused by a number of different factors and events. A combination of factors, such as genetics, low self-esteem, and a history of dieting, can cause someone to start binge eating or develop a binge eating disorder.

Genetics And Family History

If you have a close family member who struggled with an eating disorder, you face an increased risk of developing one yourself. Many researchers suspect that this phenomenon occurs as a result of inheriting certain genes that make you more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder.

Low Self-Esteem And Unrealistic Body Standards

Binge eating disorder can also result from efforts to fit society’s desire for a thin body. In the past, the fashion and entertainment industry played a large part in setting unrealistic body standards for men and women. They still play a large hand in this, but social media has since exacerbated this problem. Traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse, can also trigger binge eating disorder.

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Past Attempts To Diet

Some people who try to lose weight attempt to severely restrict their caloric intake. However, this limitation can cause them to binge eat later in the day to compensate for their strict diet.

Common Signs And Symptoms Of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is characterized by eating an excessive amount of food within a short period. Even when they aren’t hungry anymore, people with binge eating disorder will continue to eat. While people with this eating disorder might feel a temporary sense of relief during an episode, they typically feel shame and depression once it is over.

To be officially diagnosed with binge eating disorder, a person must show at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Eating at a rapid pace
  • Consuming large amounts of food and not feeling hungry
  • Choosing to eat alone out of shame or embarrassment
  • Continuing to eat until one becomes uncomfortably full
  • Feeling guilty or disgusted with oneself
  • Going through at least one binging episode a week over a timespan of three months

Sometimes, people who overeat for special occasions like a birthday or Thanksgiving, experience these symptoms. However, that does not mean that they have binge eating disorder. That’s why the symptom of going through at least one binging episode a week over a prolonged period plays a crucial role in one’s diagnosis.

Another thing to note about binge eating disorder is that, unlike bulimia, there is no episode during which a person attempts to undo the effects of their binge. Someone with bulimia may try to purge the food and calories they consumed from a prior binge. During this episode, a person might attempt to over-exercise or take laxatives.

Mental Health Disorders That Can Accompany Binge Eating Disorder

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Binge eating disorder can accompany some other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Some patients with eating disorders also struggle with self-harm and substance abuse.

Sometimes, these mental health disorders develop alongside eating disorders. Other times, mental health disorders develop as a result of these eating disorders and their symptoms. Eating disorders and mental health disorders can co-occur, as well.

  • Depression — mood disorder characterized by persistent and intense feelings of sadness, suicidal thoughts, and a loss of interest in activities
  • Anxiety — mental health disorder that causes excessive worry in an individual even after the stressor goes away or is resolved
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — serious mental health disorder that is caused by a traumatic event and includes symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) — an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted thoughts or obsessions that cause people to do something, such as handwashing, repeatedly

Health Complications That Can Result From Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder can cause several health problems, including:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Joint problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Arthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Depression

Treatments For Binge Eating Disorder

If you or a loved one is struggling with this disorder, you have some binge eating disorder treatment options available to you. You can find a specialist through an online directory offered by the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) or by a recommendation by your primary care physician. They might recommend one or more of these treatment options to help you begin your road to recovery.

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  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy: a popular type of binge eating disorder treatment designed to change your negative thinking and behavior to help you develop a healthier mindset toward food
  • Medication: Vyvanse is a medication that has been cleared to use as a binge eating disorder treatment; Topamax, as well as a combination of bupropion and naltrexone, has also been known to help in the past
  • Nutrition Counseling: a nutrition counselor can help you follow healthy eating patterns while also teaching you more about
  • Group Therapy: sharing your experience with others who are also struggling with eating disorders can be helpful

FAQ About Dealing With Binge Eating Disorder

Like most people, you probably have a number of questions about binge eating disorder and its negative effects on your body. Check out our FAQ on eating disorders to learn more about binge eating disorder and how it can be treated.

Does binge eating make you gain weight?

Binge eating once will not make you gain weight overnight. However, people who struggle with binge eating disorder, which occurs when you compulsively overeat, are at risk of growing overweight. In fact, two-thirds of people with binge eating disorder are overweight.

Is binge eating disorder more prevalent in men or women?

Just like most eating disorders, binge eating disorder is more common among women than men. However, men are not immune to developing eating disorders. Many men also struggle with unhealthy eating habits and body image issues.

Why can’t I stop binge eating?

Binge eating can occur due to a number of factors. It can be tempting to binge eat when you are feeling lonely or depressed. Many people who struggle with binge eating also struggle with a negative body image. Some people binge eat without realizing it, as they will eat while distracted.

How does binge eating disorder differ from bulimia?

The two eating disorders are similar in that both involve binge eating excessive amounts of food. But unlike binge eating, bulimia is characterized by an attempt to “purge” the extra food and calories consumed during a binge. This purge can be through vomiting, taking laxatives, or over-exercising.

Are certain people at a greater risk of developing eating disorders than others?

People who have family members with eating disorders are at a greater risk of developing themselves. The societal pressure to have a thin body can also harm one’s self-esteem and sense of worth, thereby making them more susceptible to developing an eating disorder.

Can people with eating disorders fully recover?

It is possible for people struggling with eating disorders to recover from their illness. Inpatient treatment programs, cognitive behavior therapy, group counseling, nutrition counseling, and medication may be used to treat binge eating disorder.

Is it possible to prevent eating disorders like binge eating disorder from occurring?

Encouraging healthy attitudes toward nutrition and helping others develop a more positive body image can help lower their risk of developing an eating disorder. It’s not always going to be possible to prevent people from developing an eating disorder, however. But starting treatment as soon as possible can help people begin to recover from their disorder.

If you are struggling with binge eating disorder, it is crucial to know that there is help out there for you. Online professional mental health counselors at BetterHelp will help you recover from and manage this serious illness. Contact our team today to learn more information.


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