Is Binge Eating A Serious Mental Health Issue?

lady binge eating

It is not uncommon for people to overeat from time to time. Many individuals overeat on special occasions, public holidays or social events. However binge eating is different from overeating. Keep on reading to learn what binge eating is, how to spot it, and how to get it under control.

What is Binge Eating?

Binge eating refers to the consumption of a large amount of food in a short period of time. In many cases the food is consumed in secret, you continue to eat even though you may already be full, and there are strong feelings of guilt after the episode. Many people binge in order to block out negative thoughts and emotions. If you overeat excessively and regularly, and are unable to control your eating, you may have a binge eating disorder.

Binge eating often begins when a person is in his or her late teens or early twenties. While It may occur as a symptom of another mental health issue, binge eating disorder is a serious mental health condition in its own right.

Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

The exact cause of binge eating disorder is not known. However, there are certain risk factors that may increase the odds that you develop the condition. A study published in 2016 found that 30% of people with binge eating and other food-related disorders were physically or sexually abused in childhood. Other risk factors are:

  • A family history of eating disorders, alcohol or drug misuse, and depression
  • Being constantly criticized for your weight, appearance, body shape, or eating habits 
  • Feeling worried about being overweight and experiencing social pressure, whether from family, friends, or workmates, to be slim; this is most common among athletes and models
  • You are depressed, have low self-esteem, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or suffer from anxiety about your appearance
  • You have experienced severe trauma at some point in your life

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

The main symptoms of binge eating disorder are food binges that are planned in advance and carried out in secret. Further details about these symptoms are mentioned below:

  • Eating lots of food in a short period of time and not being able to stop
  • Eating when you aren’t hungry or have just eaten somewhere else
  • Eating at an extremely fast pace, not taking the time to breathe properly, which often leads to swallowed air and abdominal cramps
  • Finding a secret location to gorge yourself on unhealthy foods
  • Feeling disgusted, lonely, guilty, and depressed after you have finished a binge

If you have exhibited any of the behavioral patterns or symptoms listed here, then there is a possibility that you have a binge eating disorder. As it is very difficult to diagnose behavioral and mental health conditions yourself, it is strongly recommended that you speak with your primary care physician.

Spotting the Signs

Are you concerned that a loved one has developed a binge eating disorder? Here are a few ways that you can spot telltale signs of binge eating disorder in other people:

  • Your loved one eats a lot of food very quickly
  • Your loved one is reluctant to tell you how much he or she has eaten
  • Your loved one has put on a lot of weight but he or she does not eat enough in your presence to justify such weight gain
  • Your loved one hides food under the bed, in his or her room, and in other places

Seeing a Physician

As already mentioned, it’s very important that you go to a physician—or take your loved one to one—if you suspect that you or your loved one is suffering from binge eating disorder. Binge eating is associated with a host of physical and mental health issues such as:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Body image issues

Once you have visited your doctor, he or she will likely refer you or your loved one to a healthcare professional who specializes in treating eating disorders or to an eating disorder treatment center in your area.

If you are having trouble talking about your disorder, there are numbers and online websites where you can talk to a licensed healthcare professional in confidence. If your loved one has binge eating disorder but won’t seek help, you may choose to contact an eating disorder treatment center yourself and ask for advice.

Available Treatment

Thankfully, most people recover from binge eating disorder with support and treatment. However, recovery is not an overnight process. Treatment for binge eating disorder can take months. The primary treatments for binge eating are therapy (individual or group), self-help programmes, and medication. While therapy and self-help programs often address binge eating behaviors, medication is usually used to treat the underlying issues (i.e. depression, anxiety, PTSD) and not binge eating disorder itself.

Binge eating disorder can be extremely hard to live with, especially if you are also suffering from anxiety or depression. Talk to your doctor if you think you need help with your eating habits and overall health. If your doctor believes you have comorbid mood issues, he or she may recommend that you go to therapy. Therapy can help you to feel better about yourself and find effective ways to stop overeating.