A closer look at what binge eating is and tips for managing it
What is Binge Eating?
Most people overeat every now and then and it is common to occasionally feel as though you have eaten too much. However, regularly consuming large amounts of food when you are not feeling hungry, usually to the point of feeling too full, and at a much faster rate than usual is known as binge eating. Binge eating is similar to bulimia except that the person does not get rid of the food after eating.
Some of the characteristics of binge eating include:
Feeling that eating is out of control
Eating what most people would consider to be a large amount of food
Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable
Eating large amounts of food, even when you are not really hungry
Being secretive about what is eaten and when
Being embarrassed by the amount of food eaten
Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty about overeating
If you think one or a number of these characteristics describe your eating habits, you may want to speak to a medical doctor, a nutritionist, dietitian, psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional.
Causes of binge eating
No one knows for sure what causes binge eating. A number of different factors are thought to contribute to the problem. These include physiological factors (such as our brain chemistry), social and cultural factors (including the thin body ideal or previous trauma), dieting, and emotions such as anger, boredom, depression and feeling worried or stressed. People often overeat as a way to make themselves feel better or to distract themselves from their problems.
Dieting may aggravate binge eating. Dieting involves setting rules about what to eat and when to eat. If those rules are occasionally broken, for example, by eating a food you are not allowed or eating more than you should, some people think that their diet is ruined. As a consequence, they eat all they want and plan to start their diet again the next day.
Effects of binge eating
There are a number of physical and emotional effects of binge eating. Some of these include:
Not getting enough vitamins and other nutrients. Often the food that is eaten during a binge is high in fat and sugar and low in important nutrients. This may lead to other health difficulties.
Depression may occur as binging often increases feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness.
It is not uncommon for people who have a problem with binge eating to be overweight or obese, although it is also possible for people to be within their healthy weight range.
Being obese may contribute to the onset of certain chronic health problems such diabetes, gallbladder disease, heart disease, cancer, and bone and joint problems.
Suggestions for getting help
The reasons for binging are complicated and it may be difficult to manage your binging on your own. Managing your eating habits may include speaking to a professional. It may be helpful for you to talk with a medical doctor, dietitian, nutritionist or mental health professional. They should be able to help you work out the best way to manage your binging. There are a number of options for doing this and by talking it through you can find the best one for you. There are also things you can do to help yourself get your eating under control.
Some suggestions include:
Eating regularly. It may be helpful to eat small meals regularly so that you are giving your body enough nutrients throughout the day. It’s also important to start developing a routine, so your body can intuit when it’s time to eat. Having a structural eating plan is key to avoiding binging.
Avoid skipping meals. If you can, try to avoid missing meals. Skipping a meal may make you hungry later on in the day which could result in binge eating.
Pay attention to your feelings. Often times, binge eating has a psychological component to it. It’s important to pay close attention to the feelings you have when you’re triggered and considering binging. This will give you a starting point of understanding the tie between eating and your emotions.
Eating a balanced diet. If possible, avoid going on diets which suggest that you leave out certain foods or only eat at certain times of the day. When you deny yourself food, you’re more likely to restart the cycle of restricting, binging, and feeling guilty. If you’re having strong cravings for triggering foods, plan to enjoy that food at a later date in the week when you’re not feeling so impulsive. Also, having good eating habits can promote good health, a better sense of how full you are, and can reduce your risk for chronic diseases.
Have a distraction. Having something else you can do when you feel like binging may also be helpful. This may be going for a walk, hanging out with friends, reading or listening to music. Check out our Developing Coping Strategies article for more suggestions.
Move your body! Putting your body in motion everyday can be helpful. If you haven’t exercised before, it may be a good idea to talk with your medical doctor about the type of exercise that would be suitable for you. Exercise doesn’t have to mean just going to the gym for a run on the treadmill or lifting weights. Find a way to move your body in a way you enjoy. Perhaps that means going on a hike with friends, dancing your heart out in your room, riding your bike around town, or taking your dog for a walk.
In your journey of recovery, it’s important to become in tune with your body and the signals it gives. Notice how you’re feeling when you eat, how you feel when you move your body, and how you feel when caring for yourself in other ways. Your self-care routine (which can be as simple as showering and getting enough sleep) will help you grow more in tune with your needs and what makes you feel like the best version of yourself!
For more information:
To read more about binge eating check out the US Department of Health and Human Services Weight Control Information Network and information from the Mayo Clinic.
For more information on health eating habits check out the nutrition website provided by the US Department of Agriculture.
If you are interested in finding out more about exercise guidelines, you may want to read the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Guidelines for Physical Activity.
Recovery Warrior shares 10 expert tips for recovering from binge and emotional eating.
Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com