Do you ever gorge yourself on large amounts of food when you're not hungry, and then feel racked by feelings of guilt and shame for your lack of self-control? If so, you may have a condition known as binge eating disorder.
And you’re not alone.
In fact, binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States. However, compulsive eating behaviors can eventually lead to physical and mental health problems, so in this article, we’re going to dig into this serious disorder and uncover what you need to know to reduce your compulsive overeating and achieve a healthier relationship with food.
What Is Binge Eating?
Binge eating is the act of consuming large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time. When this behavior becomes a regular pattern, it becomes known as binge eating disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with binge eating disorder eat excessively at least once a week for at least 3 months.
While most people with binge eating disorder are either already overweight or obese, individuals with the condition may be of normal weight as well. The exact cause of the disorder is also unknown, though genetic predisposition, hormone imbalances, history of trauma, and pre-existing mental health conditions are all thought to play a role.
Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
Because people with binge eating disorder feel embarrassed or ashamed of their behavior, they may go to great lengths to keep their symptoms hidden from others. But signs and symptoms for binge eaters and their loved ones to look out for include:
- Eating a large amount of food in a short period of time
- Feeling a loss of control when eating
- Continuing to eat when no longer hungry
- Feeling depressed or guilty about bingeing
- Gorging on stockpiled food when alone
- Frequently dieting to compensate for binge eating episodes
- Feeling numb while bingeing
Risk Factors for Binge Eating Disorder
While binge eating disorder can affect anyone, some people are more at risk than others. Some common risk factors include:
- Sex: Women are more likely than men to develop binge eating disorder.
- Age: People in their teens and 20s are more likely to develop compulsive eating behaviors.
- Family history: People with close family members with eating disorders are more likely to develop binge eating disorder.
- Dieting: People who practice calorie restriction for weight loss have a greater risk of engaging in binge eating episodes.
- Mental health issues: People with low self-esteem and body image issues are at greater risk of developing compulsive eating behaviors.
How Binge Eating Affects the Body
Regular episodes of compulsive overeating take a toll on the mind and body and can lead to a wide range of health issues, including:
Bingeing also causes levels of fat and sugar in the bloodstream to rise and fall continuously, which can put you at increased risk of fatty liver disease. And according to a 2017 study published in the journal Nutrients, a single day of excessive dietary fat intake may have immediate effects on metabolism by reducing insulin sensitivity, which can lead to both weight gain and an increased risk of diabetes.
Treating Binge Eating Disorder
The first step in the treatment of binge eating disorder is finding a health professional with expertise in treating eating disorders. Depending on the severity of symptoms, your health care provider may also recommend referral to a nutritionist and mental health professional to help work on the underlying issues leading to compulsive overeating.
Because binge eating often results from a combination of low self-esteem, obsession with body shape, and poor coping skills, addressing these issues can help individuals struggling with binge eating disorder learn better ways to deal with the ups and downs of day-to-day life.
Your health care provider may also recommend a support group for people with eating disorders. Moreover, three types of psychotherapy have also been shown to be helpful in the treatment of binge eating disorder. These are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: CBT is a generally short-term form of therapy that can help individuals address ongoing problems, find more effective coping strategies, and develop new ways of processing feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy: This type of therapy focuses on an individual’s relationships with other people, including family members and friends, and works to improve interpersonal skills, thus reducing episodes of binge eating related to difficult relationships and communication issues.
- Dialectical behavior therapy: This form of therapy focuses on helping individuals learn coping skills that can increase stress tolerance, regulate emotions, and improve interpersonal relationships.
While many people with binge eating disorder have a history of unsuccessful dieting, treatment strategies that focus on weight loss often lead to compulsive overeating and aren’t recommended until binge eating disorder has been successfully treated.
In addition, an article published in Psychology Today indicates that supplemental amino acids are the “single most helpful intervention for treating disturbances of appetite,” as amino acids are required for sustaining the balance between several substances involved in synchronizing hunger cues, eating patterns, and appetite.
What’s more, amino acids are also necessary for maintaining the brain’s balance of neurotransmitters, which is crucial for proper regulation of mood and behavior.
If you suspect you or someone you love has a problem with binge eating, be sure to speak with a knowledgeable health care professional who can help you pinpoint the underlying cause of your eating habits and identify the best treatment option for you.
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