Binge eating: What it is, and how to overcome it

Binge eating is a mental health disorder charactised by frequent episodes of over-eating, followed by shame and embarrassment.
Binge eating.
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What you need to know:

  • Binge eating differs from food addiction in that binge eaters have episodes of over-eating, while food addiction is about the feeling that eating gives a person.
  • Binge eaters often experience shame and embarrassment, and tend to isolate themselves.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help binge eaters resolve their negative relationship with food.

Binge eating is a mental disorder characterised by episodes of overeating. Binge eaters often eat large amounts of food in a short time. Binge eating is different from simply overeating on occasion, as it is usually associated with negative emotions such as shame, guilt, and embarrassment.

Binge eating is different from food addiction in a few key ways. First, binge eaters have episodes of overeating, while food addiction is a more constant struggle with cravings and compulsive eating.

Binge eating is a mental illness, while food addiction is the dependency on the physical reaction (the good feeling) caused by eating food.

Identifying binge eating characteristics

  • Eating large amounts of food in a short period
  • Feeling out of control during these episodes
  • Eating in secret
  • Feeling unable to stop eating even when  full
  • Eating faster

Binge eating is different from bulimia nervosa, another type of eating disorder. Bulimia nervosa is characterised by episodes of binge eating followed by purging, which can include self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or the use of laxatives.

Triggers of binge eating

While the exact cause is unknown, certain factors could trigger binge eating behaviour.

  • When one has a history of dieting or other attempts to control one's weight; people who restrict their food intake may eventually reach a point where they feel out of control and begin binging.
  • Genetics can also play a role in binge eating; some research suggests that certain genes may make people more vulnerable to disordered eating.
  • Gender is also a factor; women are more likely to experience binge eating than men. In addition, emotional trauma can lead to binge eating as a way of numbing oneself from painful feelings.
  • And finally, worry about body image can trigger binge eating in an attempt to achieve an "ideal" body type.

The harmful side of binge eating disorder

Binge eating is a severe problem that can have negative consequences. For example, binge eating can lead to weight gain, increasing the risk for health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

In addition, people who binge-eat often feel ashamed and embarrassed about their behaviour, leading to social isolation and depression. Binge eating can also cause stomach pain and upset, as well as bloating and gas.

Tips to help beat binge eating disorder

  • Mindfulness is a key component to breaking the binge eating cycle

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and observing your thoughts and feelings without judgement.

When you are mindful, you are aware of your surroundings and the choices you are making. Mindfulness also allows you to be more aware of your eating habits and preferences to make necessary changes. 

  • Diet is important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing binge eating.

A balanced diet should include a variety of nutritious foods from all food groups. This will help ensure that you get the nutrients you need and avoid feeling deprived or bingeing on unhealthy foods.

Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats in your diet. It is also essential to pay attention to portion sizes and not to skip meals.

It can be tempting to overeat or indulge in unhealthy cravings when you feel like you are getting too hungry. However, by planning and having healthy snacks on hand, you can avoid this temptation and stay on track with your healthy diet.

Also, drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and avoid getting too hungry.

  • Stay active

Exercise can help to boost your mood and energy levels, as well as improve your overall health. When you are feeling good about yourself, it can be easier to resist the urge to binge eat.

Exercise can also help burn off any excess calories you may have consumed during a binge. If you are not used to exercising, start slowly with moderate activities such as walking or swimming. Then, as you get more fit, you can increase the intensity of your workouts.

Diagnosing and treating binge eating disorder

If you think you may be struggling with a binge eating disorder, seek help from a mental health professional. Binge eating disorder is a condition that can harm your physical and psychological health. Various treatment options for binge eating disorders are available, including cognitive-behavioural therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and medication.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can help you to identify and change the negative thoughts and behaviours that are associated with binge eating. CBT can also help you to develop healthy coping skills and to manage stress more positively.

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is a therapy that focuses on your relationships and how they may affect your eating disorder. IPT can help you to learn how to communicate more effectively and resolve conflict healthily.

Medication can also help to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and decrease the frequency of binge eating episodes.