Some eating patterns can be unhealthy due to the mental health challenges behind them. Binge eating can have compulsive roots, meaning it may be difficult for those who eat in binges to feel in control of their behavior. Understanding this pattern and whether it indicates binge eating disorder can be beneficial if you believe you or someone you love might be living with an eating disorder.
What Is Binge Eating?
Binge eating is a behavioral pattern of eating large quantities of food past the point that you are full. It can mean eating many snacks when stressed or eating several extensive meals daily. It does not mean failing at a diet or giving in to cravings for sweets or salty snacks.
Often, binge eating is prompted by an emotional challenge like stress or sadness. However, people can binge eat for any reason, and some people may binge eat on the holidays to try as many delicious foods as possible. When temporarily or occasionally, binge eating may not indicate an unhealthy pattern.
What’s The Difference Between Binge Eating Disorder And Binge Eating In General?
Some people might binge eat or overeat periodically at a special event or a holiday like Thanksgiving, but binge eating disorder is different. If you binge at least once a week for three months, you might have binge eating disorder. This condition is a serious mental health condition that can cause emotional and physical distress.
Possible Causes Of Binge Eating Disorder
Various factors and events can cause binge eating disorder. However, genetics, low self-esteem, and a history of dieting are thought to be the most common.
Genetics And Family History
Binge eating disorder may occur due to inheriting specific genes that make you more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. However, the genetics behind eating disorders are still being studied.
Low Self-Esteem And Unrealistic Body Standards
Binge eating disorder can also result from efforts to reduce societal pressures. In the past, the fashion and entertainment industries played a significant part in setting unrealistic body standards. They still play a significant role, but social media significantly exacerbates this problem. Traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse, can also cause an eating disorder to develop.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
Past Attempts To Diet
Past attempts to diet or restrict food may cause some people to develop binge eating habits out of wanting to eat as much as possible to avoid going hungry. People may feel they have lost control over their behaviors but don’t know how to stop.
Common Symptoms Of Binge Eating Disorder
To be officially diagnosed with binge eating disorder, a person must show at least three of the following symptoms:
- Eating more rapidly than normal
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
- Eating alone due to embarrassment about how much one is eating
- Thoughts of disgust toward oneself
- Depression or guilt after eating
- Experiencing at least one binging episode a week for three months
People who overeat for special occasions like birthdays or Thanksgiving may experience these symptoms temporarily. However, this factor doesn’t mean they’re living with an eating disorder. For this reason, going through at least one binging episode a week over a prolonged period plays a crucial role in the diagnosis.
Mental Health Disorders That Can Accompany Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder can accompany other mental health conditions. Statistics show that 55% to 65% of people with binge eating disorder are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and about 33% with major depressive disorder. Some individuals with eating disorders also struggle with self-harm and substance use.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
Other Health Concerns
Binge eating disorder can lead to other health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. They may also experience digestive issues, joint and muscle pain, and headaches.
Treatments For Binge Eating Disorder
If you or a loved one is struggling with a binge eating disorder, several treatment options are available. You can find a specialist through an online directory offered by the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) or by receiving a referral from your primary care physician.
Treatment may include psychotherapy to help you cope with the thoughts and feelings contributing to the disorder and any underlying mental health challenges. Common types of therapy used to treat binge eating disorders include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). Your doctor may also refer you to a nutritionist or prescribe medication to help with binge eating or treat other contributing factors.
How To Ask For Support
Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing the symptoms of a binge eating disorder. They may recommend therapy as part of your treatment plan. If you struggle to connect with an in-person therapist due to cost or other factors, you can also try online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp.
Online therapy can have several benefits. If anxiety and depression contribute to your symptoms, you may not feel comfortable meeting with a therapist face-to-face. It can be challenging to motivate yourself when you are experiencing depression or anxiety, but being able to talk to someone from the comfort of your own home may remove some of the roadblocks and make it easier to begin treatment.
Research shows that online therapy effectively treats anxiety and depression, two conditions statistically likely to appear alongside binge eating disorder. Studies found “significant and clinically meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety scores” at 12 weeks post-treatment that were sustained for six months.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about binge eating and binge eating disorder.
Does Binge Eating Make You Gain Weight?
People who struggle with binge eating disorder, which occurs when you compulsively overeat, are at risk of gaining weight. However, not everyone who binge eats gains weight, and stereotypes about what someone’s body “should” look like with an eating disorder can perpetuate eating disorder patterns and beliefs.
Is Binge Eating Disorder More Prevalent In Men Or Women?
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 experience unhealthy eating habits and body image issues.
Why Can’t I Stop Binge Eating?
Binge eating can occur due to several factors. It can be tempting to binge eat when you are lonely, stressed, or depressed. Many people who struggle with binge eating also experience negative body image. Some people binge eat without realizing it due to eating when distracted or as a social connection tool.
How Does Binge Eating Disorder Differ From Bulimia?
Both bulimia and binge eating disorder involve binge eating excessive amounts of food. However, unlike binge eating disorder, bulimia is characterized by an attempt to “purge” the extra food and calories consumed during a binge. This purge might involve vomiting, taking laxatives, or over-exercising.
Are Certain People At A Greater Risk Of Developing Eating Disorders Than Others?
The societal pressure to have a thin body can 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-behavioral therapy, group counseling, nutrition counseling, and medication may be used to treat binge eating disorders.
Is It Possible To Prevent Eating Disorders 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. However, preventing people from developing an eating disorder may not necessarily be possible. Starting treatment as soon as possible can help individuals recover if they start to experience symptoms.
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