This page was medically reviewed by David Waller, (BACP, FDAP), Eating Disorder Programme Lead at Life Works.
What is binge eating?
Regular binge eating is a serious medical condition and type of eating disorder. Left untreated, it can lead to a compulsive, out-of-control relationship with food that threatens your health.
‘Binges’ will often be planned in advance and can involve the person buying ‘special’ foods for the occasion. In rare cases, people describe themselves as being in a dazed state while they’re doing it and sometimes can’t even recall what they ate. The binges are then often followed by periods of purging.
Binges are often conducted in private because the sufferer feels embarrassed, guilty or disgusted with their behaviour when they have finished eating.
Why do I binge eat?
There are many factors that can cause an eating disorder, but those who struggle with binge eating will commonly feel a sense of worthlessness. While it shares this symptom with mental health disorders like depression, when binge eating the feeling is connected to your image rather than personality.
Someone struggling with binge eating can become obsessed with their appearance and engage in dangerous eating behaviours in an attempt to reach a size and weight they believe is “correct”. This satisfactory weight is rarely ever achieved, so the feelings of guilt and shame that spring from the imagined failure start a new cycle all over again.
Binge eating can also be put down to underlying mental health conditions such as stress and anxiety, where the food included in someone’s diet seems to be the only thing they can control and manage.
Signs of binge eating
Binge eating disorder is often a secretive eating disorder, so sometimes spotting the signs and symptoms can be difficult. Although different people will experience different symptoms of binge eating disorder, there are some common signs to look out for.
These signs of binge eating include:
- Consuming large quantities of food in a short time
- Eating for reasons other than hunger
- Being secretive or dishonest about eating habits
- Feeling out of control around food
- Inability to control the amount of food being ingested
- Chronic dieting
- Avoidance of eating in public
- Eating to the point of physical pain or uncomfortably full
- Cutting down on food after a binging period
Not everyone will experience these symptoms and most people will experience different intensities of these symptoms. The more developed binge eating disorder is in a person, the more likely they are to experience severe symptoms and act on their urges more frequently.
Those suffering with a severe binge eating disorder are more likely to engage in the most serious medical side effect - purging. Some sufferers ingest laxative tablets while others induce vomiting in order to rid themselves of their massive intake of food. It can be difficult to stop binging and purging when in the habit of doing so, but over time, the bowel and dental damage resulting from such actions can become lifelong health issues.
Alongside the above symptoms, those struggling with binge eating disorder may also experience co-occurring mental health problems.
These can include:
- Overwhelming feelings of guilt
- Low self-esteem
For some people with binge eating disorder, mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression may be the underlying cause of binging. For others, the binge eating disorder may have come initially from difficulties with body image issues, which have later led to co-occurring mental health challenges.
Long term effects of binge eating
When someone binge eats for a long period, it’s not just their appetite and body image that can suffer. Alongside struggling with an eating disorder, someone who binge eats may also experience other medical concerns.
These can include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- An increased risk of developing certain forms of cancer
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Joint and back pain
- Bowel problems
- Tooth and oral decay/damage
What should I do if I think I have binge eating disorder?
If you’re struggling with symptoms of a binge eating disorder or think someone you know is developing an eating disorder, it’s important to reach out to someone who can support you. This could be a friend or family member, your GP, or a specialist eating disorder clinic like Life Works.
It's important to remember that binge eating disorders are treatable, with many types of therapy proven to be effective alongside a wide range of other treatment options. Once you reach out for help and support, the right treatment plan for you can be put into place and help you overcome a binge eating disorder.
At Life Works, treatment for binge eating disorder takes place in a stress-free environment, where patients can regulate their food intake, maintain a healthy weight, and receive therapy for their disordered eating behaviours from leading experts in the field.
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