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What Is Binge Eating?

Binge eating, also called compulsive eating, is the uncontrollable desire to consume unusually large amounts of food at once. Unlike bulimics and anorexics, those who suffer from binge eating do not attempt to get rid of the food they eat through dangerous methods such as laxative abuse or purging, but that means that their compulsive consumption can lead to rapid and extreme weight gain — it’s estimated that up to one quarter of obese people suffer from binge eating disorder. And binge eaters who become obese are at risk of developing many serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease and type II diabetes.

Symptoms of Binge Eating

The clearest sign of a binge eating disorder is the chronic inability to stop from eating a volume of food far beyond what the body requires from a single meal. Other characteristics of binge eating include:

  • Continuing to eat even after beginning to feel full to discomfort
  • Eating large amounts of food when not hungry
  • Feeling guilt, shame, anger, sadness or disgust after eating
  • Eating alone to avoid feeling embarrassed about bingeing in front of others
  • Alternating binge eating with dieting

What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?

Many people erroneously believe that binge eating is the result of gluttony or a lack of self-discipline, but in fact, it is not hunger that drives binge eaters to abuse their bodies in this way, any more than it is lack of hunger that drives anorexics. Experts aren’t sure what causes binge eating, but like other eating disorders it is likely a combination of physical, emotional, environmental and psychological factors.

Did You Know?

Binge eating is not as understood or documented an eating disorder as bulimia or anorexia nervosa. Researchers are working to learn more about it and to compile a better wealth of binge eating information and statistics, with the goal of helping doctors, therapists, dieticians and nutritional counselors to provide more effective treatment for compulsive eaters.

One significant link that has been made is the one between binge eating and depression: up to half of binge eaters have a history of depression. However, what is unclear is how, or whether, one causes the other; they often seem to work in a vicious cycle in that depression can lead to binge eating either as a form of self-medication or self-punishment, and binge eating leads to anger, guilt, sadness and other negative feelings that are characteristic of depression.

Getting Help to Stop Binge Eating

A combination of medication, therapy and nutritional counseling has been useful in treating many cases of compulsive eating. If you think you need help with binge eating, ask your doctor for a professional referral and about what programs and other resources are available in your area.

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