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Binge Eating Disorder

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Binge eating is characterized by uncontrollable food intake, often in secret. Learn about what you can do to stop this destructive behavior.

Binge Eating Disorder

People who engage in regular binge eating may be suffering from binge-eating disorder. Those with the disorder eat unusually large amounts of food while feeling out of control and distressed. They then may feel guilty or depressed after the binge, beat themselves up for their lack of self-control, or worry about what compulsive eating will do to their bodies.

Binge-eating disorder typically begins in late adolescence or early adulthood and typically follows a period of dieting. During a binge, you may consume large quantities of food despite no longer feeling hungry. You can also eat extremely fast, not fully tasting what you're eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, however, there are no regular attempts to “make up” for the binges by inducing vomiting or using laxatives, fasting, or over-exercising.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of compulsive overeating usually associated with a sense of loss of control. Binge eating disorder leads to weight gain and obesity, which reinforces compulsive eating. The worse you feel about yourself and your appearance, the more you use food to cope. It becomes a vicious cycle: eating to feel better, feeling even worse, and then turning back to food for relief. However, binge eating disorder is treatable; one can learn to break the binge eating cycle, better manage one's emotions, develop a healthier relationship with food, and regain control over one's eating and health.

Behavioral symptoms of binge eating and compulsive overeating

  • Inability to stop eating or control what you're eating.

  • Rapidly eating large amounts of food.

  • Eating even when you're full.

  • Hiding or stockpiling food to eat later in secret.

  • Eating normally around others, but gorging when you're alone.

  • Eating continuously throughout the day, with no planned mealtimes.

Emotional symptoms

  • Feeling stress or tension that is only relieved by eating.

  • Embarrassment over how much you're eating.

  • Feeling numb while binge-ing—like you're not really there or you're on auto-pilot.

  • Never feeling satisfied, no matter how much you eat.

  • Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed after overeating.

  • Desperation to control weight and eating habits.

Effects of binge eating disorder

Binge eating is linked with a wide range of physical, emotional, and social problems. Binge eaters are more likely to suffer from stress, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts than people without an eating disorder. They may also experience depression and anxiety as well as substantial weight gain.

While the effects of binge eating disorder can be lasting, many people have been able to re-establish healthy eating habits and lead normal lives. You can, too. The first step is to re-evaluate your relationship with food.

Binge eating recovery

1. Improve your relationship with food.

Recovery from binge eating and food addiction can be challenging, but it's a process that can be especially difficult for people who need to eat to survive. Unlike other addictions, you can't avoid or replace your "drug" with something else. You need to develop a healthier relationship with food—a relationship that's based on meeting your nutritional needs, not your emotional ones.

2. Find better ways to feed your feelings

People often binge eat in an attempt to manage unpleasant emotions such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety. When you have a bad day, it can seem like food is your only friend. However, people who try to cope with negative feelings through binge eating often find that their problems do not go away for long.

3. Take back control of cravings

It is often difficult to predict when a binge will occur. However, people can learn to cope with the intense desire to binge by using coping mechanisms such as distraction, relaxation and planning ahead.

4. Support yourself with healthy lifestyle habits

If you're already exhausted and overwhelmed, a minor setback can send you straight toward the refrigerator. But if you're physically strong, relaxed, and well rested, you'll be better able to handle whatever curveballs life throws at you. Exercise, sleep, and other healthy lifestyle habits will help you get through difficult times without binge eating.

Tips for helping someone with binge eating disorder

  1. Encourage your loved one to get help. The longer an eating disorder goes undiagnosed and untreated, the harder it will be to overcome, so urge your loved one to seek treatment.

  2. Be supportive. Support your loved one in their efforts to quit binge eating by listening to them without judgment and making sure that they know you care about them. If they slip up on their road to recovery, remind them that quitting for good is still possible.

  3. Don't lecture, get upset, or issue ultimatums to a binge eater. Instead, make it clear that you care about the person's health and happiness and you'll continue to be there.

  4. Setting a good example is about choosing to eat healthy foods, exercising regularly, and finding ways to manage stress without turning to food. When talking about your own body or someone else's, avoid negative comments and stick with the facts.

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