It is important to differentiate between overeating and a Binge Eating Disorder. Very few among us can claim to never have over-eaten in our lives – indeed, it’s virtually impossible to complete the festive season or important social occasions without a little over-indulgence.
Binge eating, however, is a psychological disorder in which individuals are compelled to consume excessively on a regular basis – sometimes as often as three times per week – regardless of whether they are actually hungry.
Naturally, this can cause all manner of dangers to an individual’s health.
Binge eating is not defined by the size of the portion somebody may consume during a typical meal.
A sufferer of Binge Eating Disorder will often plan ahead to ingest these extra calories, typically in private as the disorder is frequently accompanied by feelings of shame and inadequacy.
Binge eaters usually struggle to control themselves during these periods, with the urge to consume overriding any sensation of physical discomfort that may result.
This can create a vicious cycle, especially in young people who are particularly susceptible to BED – feelings of stress and anxiety can bring on further compulsions to eat.
Other signs of binge eating include eating faster than usual or beyond the point of fullness, and attempting to overcompensate for the binges by extreme crash dieting.
Binge eating has been recognized as a medical condition since 1959, when American psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Albert J. Stunkard, a pioneer in studies of human obesity, coined the term Night Eating Syndrome.
Further studies from Stunkard removed the time-centric element of the condition, although it took until 2013 for the American Psychiatric Association to acknowledge Binge Eating Disorder as an official eating disorder.
It is, however, important to note that despite the similarities in symptoms to other eating disorders such as bulimia, BED stands alone as an independent mental health diagnosis.
No Two Binge-Eaters Are The Same
As a psychological condition, it can be extremely difficult to curb binge eating; the body and brain both grow addicted to this overindulgence, and traditional, healthy diet plans often tend to be unsuitable in such a complex situation.
It’s always advisable to seek professional help, if only to attempt to uncover the root cause of the condition.
No two binge-eaters are the same, and the trigger for the disorder could be emotional or physical. All journeys must begin with a single step, and this is often the most important one of all.
Charities such as B-Eat can offer invaluable advice and support.
How To Control Binge Eating
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
However, if a binge eater is determined to take the steps to recovery alone, there are a number of steps that can be taken.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – aka CBT – is one of the most popular, and one that can be undertaken by anybody.
Like any addiction, CBT will help the human brain break free of constructive and unhelpful patterns of thinking and make healthier choices.
However, it is hugely important that a binge eater does not switch one disorder for another – the temptation to purge may follow a binge, and therein lays a new realm of harmful eating disorders.
Common CBT techniques include eating when hungry and never – never – starving oneself; identifying your triggers and changing habits to avoid temptation (if somebody living with BED tends to binge when socializing, for example, they should suggest catching up with friends in a food-free setting); restraining oneself and attempting to wait ten minutes before succumbing to the temptation to binge to see if the temptation passes; and finally, indulging in mindful eating.
Whenever somebody takes extra care to acknowledge what – and how they are eating, it will alter their relationship with food for the better.
Once an individual with BED has mastered these CBT techniques, it will become considerably easier to listen to their body and eat when hungry, without those unwelcome and unnecessary sensations of guilt and shame.
Of course CBT isn't a cure for binge eating but a way to prevent it.
Meal plans can be a way of making the transition into a positive relationship with food, by maintain order and control, as can learning to recognize triggers and warning signs that a binge may be impending.
If necessary, somebody with BED should remove the kind of foods that they may binge on from their home to avoid easy access, or if their connection with binge eating is founded on an emotional relationship with food, find alternative ways to release endorphins such as exercise.
Of course, it’s never as simple as simply changing habits from one evening to the following morning.
Compulsions will follow, as is the way of any addiction-based disorder, and anybody with BED should learn the art of urge surfing. Urges, like the waves of the sea, rise and fall with regularity – if their momentum can be ridden, it can be surprising how swiftly and smoothly they pass.
Other than this, the advice for conquering BED is largely identical to that of living a healthy life; get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of water, and ensure that when eating – regularly and steadily, with no negative emotional connotation –all five major food groups are represented in the diet.
Why Do I Binge Eat? – What Can Cause This?
A feeling of worthlessness for whatever reasons can be overwhelming.
You may be feeling that your work is not up to speed (stress in the workplace), or you could, unfortunately, be in a destructive or abusive relationship, where everything you may do is met by disapproval or actual damaging physical contact.
You may have had a baby, and in spite of dieting, are failing to lose weight and feel unattractive – whilst making the effort to lose weight and exercise, you would rather delve into more satisfying foods to relieve the tension – a totally negative effect is the result, causing more weight gain and a perpetuating vicious circle,.
Or you may have a long history of parental disturbance, causing you to feel unwanted and unloved. There are a multitude of causes which make you hide behind food overindulgence.
Peer pressure, bullying and not being part of a social circle, particularly in the younger generation, can often resort to individuals retreating into a haven of food, and more food to combat the feeling of exclusion or hatred from their own generation.
BED doesn’t always manifest itself in weight gain.You may have a fast metabolism that no matter how much you eat, you do not gain weight. But you do have lack of control, and whilst you may feel sick or bloated once you have overeaten, you will not see anything wrong in this. In fact, the more you repeat the process, the more the feeling of discomfort becomes normal to you
Are you lonely, unhappy or bored? You tend to binge when there is nothing else to concentrate on, and tomorrow becomes another day to ‘stop’.
Perhaps you are a ‘secret eater’, and you hide food that you know you should not be eating in the quantities that you are.
You may even hide packets and wrappers to conceal the evidence, as psychologically you know that what you are doing is wrong. Out of sight and out of mind, somehow makes it more acceptable.
"One Food Wonder" Syndrome
There can also be the ‘one food wonder’ syndrome, whereby there is only one item of foodstuffs that you really like and want to binge on, so you eat to excess on that particular food group.
Other significant and strange behavioural problems can include:
- Hoarding food in all types of strange places, so that you know you will never run out in order to have a constant supply of your ‘fancies’
- The complete extreme – messing around or eating like a bird at meal times, only to binge when nobody is looking
- Pushing food perpetually around your plate, chewing everything mercilessly, which again allows you to binge in secret
- Criticising others around you about what they eat, pulling faces at their dietary habits, whilst you are secretly in denial yourself. This is a retaliation syndrome.
- You significantly don’t actually make a concentrated effort to purge or curb your bingeing. No forced vomiting or taking laxatives. This is by no means a bad thing, as this can obviously lead to anorexia or bulimia.
What Are The Dangers Of Binge Eating?
Binge eating can lead to a varying array of health hazards, some serious and some that can be life-threatening.
On the surface, you can experience a wide range of social, emotional and behavioral problems, even as far as suicidal thoughts at the extreme.
Some people will get to the stage where food is not enough, and take up another form of substance abuse to get gratification.
This may sound dramatic, but left untreated, psychological and emotional problems can result in changes in health, relationships and overall well-being.
How To Stop Binge Eating
The First Steps To Beating Binge Eating
Recognizing the problem is paramount, and most people certainly do know that they are binge eating.
Admit you have a problem, and start to address it, by keeping a food diary to identify what exactly triggers these deep-seated emotions.
Find the pattern, and you are on the way already to handling and beating this addiction. After all, that is what it is in a nutshell – an addiction.
Watch Out For Triggers
Keep a watch on what triggers the tendency to binge – what emotional disruption are you feeling, what are you eating when you feel this way, and how you felt afterwards.
Write it all down – clearing your mind is one step to curation. After a few occurrences, you will probably begin to see a pattern forming.
Accept it, don’t fight it or go into denial.
Never judge yourself, and do realise that the person you are that binges, can be changed – bingeing is not a bad or personal characteristic, its set off by conditions around you that have caused that reaction.
Consider it almost as a ‘dual personality’ – remember that you are the ‘real’ person and your addiction is not.
Feeling isolated can be a trigger, so have courage and turn to a family member or friend to talk to.
Beginners Tips: How To Overcome Binge Eating
First and foremost, never ‘beat’ yourself up if you realise you are bingeing. Realising the problem is a good step forward, but it is now what you do to overcome the problem.
A few helpful ways to combat your desires for binge eating:
- Recognize and Realize: Accept the urge and "surf it".
- Pick up the phone and talk to someone you know cares about you. A caring voice on the end of the phone maybe just what you need to prevent a binge.
- Take it gradually - When the urge is there, just wait as long as you can and build up on that waiting time. A minute or two will soon turn into hours without bingeing.
- Get out of the house - walk, play with the dog, go to the garden center - anything that brings out a pleasurable emotion. Any form of exercise will do wonders for decreasing and the urge to binge. This is a good way to avoid binge eating. If you have previously been a couch potato, build up your stamina - physical exercise brings about more strength, more "get up and go" and consequently more power to resist.
- Get plenty of good quality rest and relaxation. This doesn't have to be sleep, it can be yoga or pilates or something similar. Meditation is also a good way to set your mind to resist urges. Something that requires concentration is another good method as you will stop thinking about food unless you are genuinely hungry.
If you are supporting an individual suffering from binge eating, you could be a critical factor in putting them on the path to beating their problem. Show sympathy, but be firm, but never judgemental.