Binge eating is an eating disorder that can have a dangerous impact on both physical and mental health. Those that develop this disorder often develop it during adolescence or early adulthood. The earlier a person develops this disorder, the more severe the condition tends to be. With binge eating, a person often eats a large amount of food in one sitting, typically following a period of restriction. The cycle is harmful both to the person affected as well as those who love them. Here’s what you need to know about binge eating disorder and its connection to mental health.
What is binge eating?
Binge eating is a pattern of eating characterized by consuming a large amount of food in a short period of time. Although it is common for some people to eat more than usual when they are stressed, sad, or bored, binge-eating episodes occur without the person making any effort to control the amount they eat. Binge-eaters may also consume food very quickly or secretly during these episodes.
A binge eating episode is identified as having three or more of the following criteria:
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating in an isolated environment due to shame
- Eating large amounts of food without the sensation of hunger
- Eating quicker than normal
- Negative emotions following eating, such as depression, shame, or disgust
It must also happen on the basis of at least once a week for a period of three months or more. At this point, the disorder can receive an official diagnosis. However, in many cases, people are aware of their binge eating tendencies before they meet these qualifications. Should this be the case, reaching out for help as soon as possible can make a large impact on their overall rate of success in treatment.
Many people who binge eat do so in private because they are ashamed of their behavior. This can feel like a compulsion for them, which can be hard to resist because it often feels like an urge that must be satisfied immediately. Binging can also become addictive as you grow accustomed to getting that pleasurable feeling from eating large amounts of food rapidly. This can lead to serious health issues if you’re unable to break free from this habit.
How are binge eating and mental health connected?
Binge eating is often a symptom of other mental health issues. For example, someone who is depressed may feel helpless and experience intense negative emotions, which can lead to binge eating. Someone who has anxiety may constantly be worrying about what will happen in the future or how they will deal with it. This worry can lead to stress and anxiety that causes people to want to eat more than usual and overfeed themselves. People who have suffered from trauma or abuse may overeat as a way of coping with their past experiences.
There are also people who struggle with binge eating but do not have another underlying issue (i.e., they do not have depression or anxiety). For example, some people start out as regular dieters but eventually develop an unhealthy relationship with food that leads them down a path toward compulsive overeating and purging behaviors. Binge eating can be a comorbid diagnosis with anorexia or bulimia.
Most commonly, binge eating is linked to interpersonal problems, lower socio-economic status, mood disorders, and substance abuse. When food becomes a source of self-regulation or self-medication, it can quickly become an addiction. In this way, it is similar to alcohol abuse. People with underlying mental health issues will often seek out comfort in any way that brings them a quick solution.
What causes binge eating?
While researchers have not yet pinpointed the exact cause of binge eating, they do know that biological factors and psychological aspects can be responsible.
Biological causes: Genetics – Studies have indicated that people with a parent who was overweight or obese are more likely to develop binge eating disorders than those without.
Psychological causes: Emotional eating – People use food as a coping mechanism for stress, distress, boredom, or anxiety. There is also some evidence that family dynamics may play a role in the development of this disorder (e.g., parents’ modeling unhealthy behaviors).
What can you do to heal?
If you’re struggling with binge eating, it’s important to seek help. You can find support in the form of therapy and/or a support group. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a proven method for treating eating disorders of all kinds. Though it is best when utilized with other mechanisms as well, CBT can help you understand where this behavior may be coming from as well as identify triggers.
Meditating and exercising also help with stress reduction and overall health, so try incorporating those activities into your routine. With a strong body comes a stronger mind, which is vital when battling mental health-related disorders. Getting enough sleep is also an important part of healing from an eating disorder. When we’re exhausted, we tend to be much more susceptible to negative emotions like anger or sadness, which can trigger these types of behaviors. Finally, eating healthy foods will provide better nutrition for your body and mind, so it is crucial to prioritize proper nutrition as you work toward healing.
Understanding the causes and factors of your behavior is a good first step toward healing.
If you have a binge eating disorder, it’s important to understand the causes and factors of your behavior. What is the root cause of this behavior? Are there any warning signs that you’re about to binge? What triggers the binges? Is there a way to prevent them from happening in the first place? You may not be able to answer these questions yourself, which is why seeking help from a medical professional is so crucial.
Understanding what is causing your behavior will allow you to manage it better and take steps toward healing. For example, if you notice that a certain food triggers your appetite for more food, then eliminating that food from your diet will likely reduce or even eliminate the binging altogether. On the other hand, if stress is one of your main triggers for overeating, then finding healthy ways of dealing with stressful situations will help keep binges at bay.
Binge eating is a symptom of a bigger problem and can be treated as such. The cause of binge eating varies from person to person, but there are several things you can do to help yourself heal. Talk with a therapist who specializes in this issue or attend support groups that can offer emotional support as well as practical tools for managing the issue. Ultimately, binge eating is a treatable condition and does not need to be a lifelong struggle. In addition to this, healing from this disorder can help you heal from the primary issue that triggered its development, if applicable. With the right guidance and assistance, you can recover and get your life back on track.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.