Binge eating is not just a habit. There is an actual disease called “binge eating disorder” in which you eat abnormally large amounts of food with an inability to stop eating when your body is technically full. This is a dangerous, life-threatening condition, but help is available, and recovery is possible.
While you can overeat every once in a while, binge eaters consistently eat too much but do not use laxatives or purge to get rid of the food.
Many people who have binge eating disorder have weight problems but some are of normal weight.
The signs and symptoms of having binge eating disorder include the following:
- Having out of control eating behaviors
- Eating huge amounts of food over a short period of time.
- Eating even when you aren’t hungry.
- Eating rapidly when you binge eat.
- Eating in secret or when you are alone.
- Feeling ashamed, guilty, or depressed about your eating behavior.
- Always going on a diet, usually without success.
Risk Factors for Binge Eating
There are some factors in your life that can increase your chances of having a binge-eating problem. These include the following:
- Psychological problems. Most people who have this problem have a negative self-image and don’t feel positive about their accomplishments and skills. You can overeat because you are bored, stressed out, or have a poor image of your body.
- Family history. If you have a first-degree relative such as a sibling or a parent who suffers from binge eating difficulties, you might be at an increased risk yourself. It may mean that there are some hereditary factors that relate to developing this type of eating disorder.
- Over dieting. If you have a long history of dieting as far back as childhood, this may have been a way of compensating for times in which you were otherwise overeating.
- You can have binge eating disorder at any age but most people have an onset of the disorder in their teens or in their early twenties.
The Dangers of Binge Eating
Binge eating can cause you both physical and psychological problems. Some of the major dangers of binge eating include the following:
- Feeling terrible about yourself
- Feeling bad about how your life is going
- Having problems functioning in your personal life, in social situations, or in the work environment.
- Having poor quality of life.
- Being socially isolated from others.
- Suffering from obesity or being overweight.
- Having medical problems as a result of being obese, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis of the joints, gastroesophageal reflux disease (also called GERD), and breathing problems such as sleep apnea.
The psychiatric disorders most commonly linked to binge eating problems include things like bipolar disorder, depressive symptoms, anxiety disorders, and illicit drug use.
Diagnosing Binge Eating Disorder
In order to make the diagnosis of binge eating disorder, you may need to see a psychological professional for a full evaluation of your eating behaviors. Tests to evaluate the possibility that binge eating has already affected your health include testing for things like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, high cholesterol, gastroesophageal disorder, and sleep apnea disorder.
The doctor may do a complete physical examination, take blood or urine tests, and perhaps refer you to a center for sleep disorders for a consultation.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the following things must be in place in order to make the diagnosis of binge eating disorder:
- Having a lack of control about eating, including how much you eat and whether or not you can actually stop eating.
- Having recurrent attacks of overeating a large amount of food over a short period of time.
- Having these factors related to eating: eating to the point where you feel extremely full, eating very quickly, eating alone because you are embarrassed about your eating, or feeling depressed, guilty or disgusted about your eating behaviors.
- Having concern about your eating habits.
- Engaging in binge eating at least once weekly for a period of three months or more.
- Eating that is unassociated with purging, laxative abuse, or excessive exercise.
Binge eating can be dangerous. It affects your overall health and can lead to mental problems that only perpetuate the eating problem.