Recognizing Binge Eating Disorder: Binge Eating Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
The old potato chip ads said, “’bet you can’t eat just one!” It’s true that some snacks are designed to tempt us into eating them (and maybe overeating them). And many of our best social situations and holidays revolve around eating large amounts of food. These can be okay on occasion and part of normal eating. But binge eating disorder is something altogether different. It’s a step beyond overindulging. Here’s how to recognize binge eating symptoms and what you should do if you or someone you love has the problem.
Is Binge Eating Serious?
Most of us are familiar with the existence of other eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia. But binge eating disorder is actually the most common eating disorder of all—not just in Houston, but in the entire country. Binge eating disorder can be life-threatening. While binge eating disorder can occur in people of normal weight, it often leads to unwanted weight gain and obesity. However, not all overweight people have binge eating disorder. Binge eating can cause chronic kidney problems or kidney failure; osteoarthritis, resulting from the strain of extra weight; and high blood pressure, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
How Do You Define a Binge?
Binge eating is more than just overeating at one of the many great restaurants here in Houston. A binge is defined as eating a very large amount of food in a very short period of time, generally less than two hours, and feeling a loss of control while eating. People may eat food very quickly, even when they’re not hungry, and will often continue to eat when they’re full. They may be very physically uncomfortable after eating so much and so quickly. But unlike bulimia, people with binge eating symptoms do not purge.
People with binge eating disorder usually feel a lot of guilt and shame about their eating habits. Most will try very hard to hide their behavior by eating in secret and destroying any evidence of eating. But they don’t know how to stop themselves while eating. It’s a very strong form of compulsive behavior, which is why it’s often referred to as compulsive overeating.
What are Binge Eating Symptoms?
Like most psychological disorders, binge eating symptoms are often triggered by stressful life events. Warning signs for an impending binge can include poor sleep or sleep deprivation and suffering psychologically stressful events, like the loss of a loved one, financial strain, or job loss.
Certain signs are also likely clues that you or someone you love may have binge eating disorder. Those signs include the following:
- Poor body image or preoccupation with weight
- Extreme unhappiness with appearance
- Depression or anxiety
- Sensitivity to comments about weight, body image, food, or eating habits
- Evidence of binge eating, such as disappearance of food or hoarding food
- Isolation from friends and loved ones and withdrawal from former activities
- Shoplifting food or spending large amounts of money on food
- Self-harming behaviors, substance abuse, or suicide attempts
What Causes Binge Eating?
Experts don’t know what causes binge eating disorder, but it does appear to be an attempt to control one’s own life, particularly during times of chaos. Binge eating can also be an attempt to cope with overwhelming emotions such as anxiety, shame, or anger, particularly in those with difficulty expressing their feelings. For some, biological imbalances can contribute to binge eating symptoms and impaired hunger and fullness cues. Binge eating often accompanies other mental health issues such as a mood disorder, or anxiety.
Environmental factors such as family pressure on appearance and excess focus on weight at a young age can contribute to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Abuse or trauma, particularly sexual abuse can trigger binge eating as a form of coping and protection.
Dieting for weight loss, particularly dieting at a young age, often leads to weight gain and binge eating. Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don’t diet.
How Can You Treat Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder can be very dangerous, but fortunately, it’s also very treatable. Therapy can be very helpful and may include techniques for learning to change your relationship with food. Dialectical behavior therapy, such as what Alexandra uses, can help you learn to regulate your emotions and tolerate stress. Several medications, including antidepressants, may also help to reduce the desire to binge. Most patients get better with a combination of therapy and medication.
Learning strategies to cope with binge eating symptoms as well as getting to the root of binge eating triggers is particularly important. Our group therapy program, “Make Peace with Food” teaches those coping skills and helps participants identify underlying issues.
Group therapy can also be a powerful way to connect with and learn from others in situations similar to your own.
Binge eating symptoms can cause a lot of distress. When you choose to get treatment, you can recover from the disorder and learn how to have a healthy relationship with food.
To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.
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