Binge eating

Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia except that the person does not get rid of the food after eating. For more information, you might want to read up on bulimia.

Characteristics of binge eating

Some of the characteristics of binge eating include:

  • feeling that eating is out of control
  • eating what most people would consider to be a large amount of food
  • eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable
  • eating large amounts of food, even when you are not really hungry
  • being secretive about what is eaten and when
  • being embarrassed by the amount of food eaten feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty about overeating.

If you think you do one or a number of these things, speak to someone like a doctor, nutritionist, psychologist or counsellor. See the face-to-face help section for more information about how they can help.

Causes of binge eating

Binge eating is caused by a number of factors that often affect one another. These include social and cultural factors (including the thin body ideal), dieting, and negative mood states, and sometimes physiological factors (such as our brain chemistry).

Dieting is also a common cause of binge eating. Dieting involves setting rules about what to eat and when.

If those rules are occasionally broken, for example, by eating a food you are not allowed or eating more than you should, some people think that their diet is ruined. As a consequence, they eat all they want and plan to start their diet again the next day.

Negative emotions are also common causes of binge eating. People often overeat as a way to make themselves feel better or to distract themselves from their problems. You can read more about this type of binge eating in comfort eating.

Effects of binge eating

There are a number of physical and emotional effects of binge eating disorder. Some of these may include:

  • not getting enough vitamins and other nutrients – often the food that is eaten during a binge is high in fat and sugar and low in important nutrients, and this may lead to other health difficulties
  • depression, which may occur as the bingeing can heighten feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness

It’s not uncommon for people who have binge eating disorder to be overweight or obese. Although it is also possible for people to be within their healthy weight range. Being obese may contribute to the onset of:

  • Diabetes
  • gall bladder disease
  • heart disease
  • various forms of cancer
  • bone and joint problems.

Getting help

You might need to speak to a professional to work out how best to manage your eating habits. However, you can still do some things yourself in order to get your eating under control. Suggestions for managing your binge eating:

  • eating regularly – it may be helpful to eat small meals regularly, so that you are giving your body enough nutrients throughout the day
  • avoid skipping meals – if you can, try to avoid missing meals, as missing out on a meal may make you hungry later on in the day, which may result in you bingeing
  • eating a balanced diet – look at the food pyramid  to see if you are getting everything you need on a daily basis – if possible, avoid going on diets which suggest that you leave out certain foods or only eat at certain times of the day
  • have a distraction – having something else you can do when you feel like bingeing may be helpful. This may be going for a walk, hanging out with friends, reading or listening to music
  • exercise – doing a little bit of exercise each day may be helpful. Check out the benefits of activity and exercise, and if you haven’t exercised before, it may be a good idea to talk with your local doctor about what exercise would suit you best

The reasons for bingeing are complicated and it may be hard to manage your bingeing on your own. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you don’t reach your immediate goal.

It might help to talk with a dietitian or psychologist. They should be able to help you work out the best way to manage your bingeing. There are a number of options for doing this, and by talking it through you can find the best one for you. See face-to-face help for more information about what these people do and how they can help.

Look in the Golden Pages to find a counsellor in your area. Your local doctor, hospital, community health centre or youth worker should also be able to help you find information.

More information

Have a look through the rest of the eating disorders and online and telephone help section for more information and some useful sites.

Helpful sites

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