Understanding Binge Eating Disorder

Many Americans do not fully understand the most prevalent eating disorder in this country: Binge Eating Disorder (BED). It is a disease that affects around 3.5 percent of women and 2.5 percent of men.

What is binge eating?

Binge Eating Disorder was first considered a true disorder in 1959 by psychiatrist Albert Stunkard, who originally labeled it “Night Eating Syndrome” because many people who eat large quantities of food tend to do so at night. Symptoms of the disorder are typically exhibited in many people, including:

  • Uncontrolled intake of food, usually resulting in an extremely large amount of calories consumed within a two-hour long timeframe.
  • Feelings of extreme guilt or regret after a binge
  • Eating large amounts of food when one is not hungry
  • Consuming large quantities of food during times of stress
  • Reaching for “empty calories” (“white”, refined carbohydrates, processed sugars, oils and processed fats) rather than foods with nutritional value (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, etc)

Because of the extreme excesses of calories consumed, those who exhibit signs of binge eating are commonly overweight or obese, but the disorder can affect anyone regardless of weight. Of overweight persons seeking medical help, about one-third are affected by binge eating disorder.

Why do some people binge eat?

shutterstock_177908972A person who feels they need to lose weight, whether they are overweight or not, may use dramatic measures to do so. Many people will eliminate entire macronutrients, such as fat or carbohydrates, in hopes that they will lose weight, but this elimination will cause the body to desire the “forbidden” food because it needs a balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates.

The dieter will then likely feel uncontrollable urges to eat a quick source of carbohydrates (such as white bread or candy) or fats (deep-fried foods, fatty dairy or meat products) to get these macronutrients into their system. Many dieters won’t eat enough calories during the day and their energy levels will dip, causing strong cravings for more food.

There are also psychological causes for this disorder. When people are stressed, the body releases a hormone called cortisol, which creates a strong urge for calorie-dense foods. Fat and sugar foods are able to temporarily “calm” the body, giving immediate relief from stress.

People who were overweight or had a negative body image in the past may sometimes turn to food as an outlet for their anxieties. This creates a cycle, as those who attempt to lose weight but find they cannot turn towards eating large quantities of food, which in turn cause them to gain more weight and feel more anxiety about their body.

How can you overcome binge eating?

Just as developing this disorder can stem from physical and psychological roots, the disorder can be treated in both physical and psychological ways.

The most effective means of treating binge eating disorder is through therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective way to treat the disorder. There are also several self-help books that have many successful readers, including the book Brain Over Binge by Kathryn Hansen.

A simpler, inexpensive means of treatment of the disorder is to write a journal entry after you binge and look for emotions or events that trigger a binge. You could also try going for a walk or reading a book every time you feel the urge to binge. Hopefully reducing the number of binges that occur can decrease the habitual nature of binge eating disorder.

As far as physical treatment of the disease, it is best to consult a doctor or physician and determine what method would work best for you. Many people may find that they need to consult a nutritionist to determine an eating plan that is non-restrictive but contains the essential fiber, healthy fats and protein to stave off physical cravings.

Also, make sure that you are eating enough food during the day (at least 1200 calories for women and at least 1500 calories for men at minimum) and eat an evening meal before about 8 p.m. so that the body has enough time to digest the meal before sleep. Make sure that you incorporate snacks throughout the day, eating a filling and nutritious snack about every two to four hours.

If you suffer from this disorder, don’t be afraid to seek help. Binge eating behaviors are common and help does exist. Please contact a medical practitioner or therapist if you think you may have Binge Eating Disorder, there are so many effective solutions.


Olivia Clancy

olivia clancy headshot (1)Olivia Clancy is devoted to healthy living for both mind and body. She lives in Madison, WI.


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