All About Binge Eating
All About Binge Eating
DediKate Nutritionist Amy discusses binge eating, what it is and what you can do if you think it affects you.
What is a Binge?
A ‘binge’ has been defined as ‘eating, in a discrete period of time (<2 hours), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period under similar circumstances’ and with a ‘sense of lack of control’ (1).
Sounds a bit whimsical if you ask me! I’m pretty sure most people have fit that criteria at some point in their lives, if not a little too frequently for our likings. So it turns out that bingeing is actually quite normal for us humans and often has no lasting effects. With that being said, sometimes binge behaviours can cause us significant harm.
It can be a problem...
If it affects you psychologically:
- Your lack of control distresses you.
- You feel a sense of relief or numbing during a binge with severe guilt and shame afterwards.
- You have very low body image and self confidence, usually made worse by a binge.
If it affects you physically:
- You have excessive weight gain.
- You have digestive issues.
- You have disrupted sleep.
- You have a disrupted appetite.
- You displace healthy foods from your diet.
The definition of a binge as ‘eating a larger amount than most’ can apply to the majority of us at some point. However, bingeing can be psychologically harmful. Also, long - term bingeing can be physically harmful.
What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating can have a particularly harmful impact in cases of Binge Eating Disorder (BED). BED is a diagnosable eating disorder, and, THE most common eating disorder (2)! However, unfortunately, as with many mental health disorders it is under discussed and little understood.
Criteria for diagnosis:
The key diagnostic features of BED according to the DSM-5 (1) (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) are:
- At least one binge eating episode per week for at least 3 months.
- Binge eating episodes associated with three (or more) of the following:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
- Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
- Marked distress regarding binge eating
- Absence of regular compensatory behaviors (such as purging)
It is completely possible to have a problem with binge eating without having BED. It is likely that the causes and treatments of these would differ.
Binge Eating Disorder is the most common diagnosable eating disorder. It is characterised by bingeing once or more per week for at least 3 months with associated distress. You can have a problem with bingeing without fitting the BED criteria.
Causes of Bingeing
- Chronic undereating can increase physiological hunger and create binge like feeding habits in response to severe hunger (3).
- The neurological reward system may be heightened in some people making them predisposed to addictive behaviours and overeating habits (4).
- Restriction of certain types of food or food groups can increase desire and create bingeing when you finally have the forbidden food, usually due to the awareness that the restriction will soon be implemented again.
- Underlying mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or other eating disorders (5).
- There is a strong relationship between those with body image issues and eating disorders (6).
- Bingeing can act as a coping mechanism for emotional trauma (7).
- Genetic predisposition to eating disorders (8). There is a higher prevalence of BED in those whose family members also have the condition.
- Binge eating may be a learnt behaviour from our social environment or influenced as a coping mechanism by our environment.
- There are many reasons for binge eating behaviour or BED including biological, psychological, genetic and socio-cultural factors.
To find out what to do if you think binge eating affects you.
What To Do if You are Struggling with Binge Eating?
Seek Professional Help:
- There are a multitude of different counselling and psychology treatments that you can look into.
- Talk to your doctor. You may be referred to a specialist or require medication for underlying health issues
- Talk to a Nutritionist/Dietician who can guide you towards repairing your healthy eating pattern.
If you are struggling with binge eating I would advise you to explore all 3 treatment channels above as it may be necessary to use a combination of treatments.
As a Nutritionist I would typically recommend the following to repair your healthy eating pattern:
- Firstly, talk to psychological and medical specialists to get the correct diagnosis, support and treatment.
- Eat enough food for your body's functions and requirements, it may be more than you think.
- Keep a consistent and well structured eating pattern. A diet diary can help with this.
- Never let yourself get hungry!
- Drop food rules and regulations.
- Bring in as much healthy, nutritious foods as possible and fill up on them.
- Forgive yourself for binges, when you binge again work on rationalising why it happened and learn from it.
- Practise mental wellbeing. This may look like journalling, meditation, walking or sharing your experiences with a loved one.
- Exercise! Feel good endorphins and looking after your fitness can promote health in other areas such as your diet.
Seek help from a counsellor, psychologist or eating disorder specialist depending on your requirements. Seek help from your medical health professional for health checks, referral and possible treatments. Seek help from a qualified Nutritionist/Dietician for guidance around rebuilding eating patterns.
Let’s Sum It Up
A binge eating episode is defined as eating more food than most people would normally, and feeling a lack of control over it. Most people can identify with this and this in itself is not necessarily a problem. However, binge eating can negatively affect you emotionally and physically and if this is the case for you, you should seek help. If you have been bingeing frequently over a long period of time with associated mental distress you may have Binge Eating Disorder (BED). There are many causes of both bingeing and BED including biological, psychological, genetic and socio-cultural influences. If you are struggling with binge eating you should seek help from relevant medical and health professionals including Psychologists, Doctors and Nutritionists.
Written by DediKate Nutritionist, Amy Allport (MSc)
DediKate nutrition services include; weekly educational nutrition videos, ongoing email support for members and a live weekly question and answer session. All with our DediKate Nutritionist Amy.
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