Why Do I Binge Eat? How Do I Stop?
Binge eating is the most common eating disorder in Australia and New Zealand. It can affect your sense of well-being, quality of life, and your health. However, despite the negative effects, it can be difficult to overcome.
While everyone overeats occasionally, binge eating disorder is different. This article will discuss what binge eating is, what the warning signs are, along with treatment and recovery options. To answer your commonly asked questions, we interviewed our psychologist Georgie Lavan – who is highly experienced in working with eating disorders.
What is binge eating?
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a mental illness that involves frequent episodes of binge eating an excessive amount of food, either in a rapid space of time or through constant grazing. These episodes may feel uncontrollable, chaotic, and be highly distressing.
Georgie says: ‘Binge eating disorder (BED) is one of the most common forms of eating disorders in Australia. Many people can glorify their overeating experiences as a binge episode when talking about food, but to a client suffering from BED, this can be a very distressing and helpless experience for them.’
During a binge, a person may not feel hungry but will still eat to beyond the point of uncomfortably feeling full. It is also common to binge eat in secret and to feel intense shame, guilt and disgust after an episode.
People with B.E.D often end up in a negative cycle by trying to restrict their food intake the next day or by trying fad diets in an effort to stop weight gain. These unhealthy behaviours can leave the person feeling even more susceptible to binge eating again and becomes a vicious cycle.
Overeating vs. Binge Eating
No doubt we all overeat from time to time, e.g. a night in with takeaway and Netflix or during social settings such as a work lunch.
Georgie puts it this way: ‘Many of us experience overeating where we get caught up in the excitement of food and eat beyond our fullness, resulting in bodily discomfort – the Christmas season is a great example of this.’
In contrast, Georgie then adds: ‘Binge eating, on the other hand, is far more impactful on a client’s life. It’s this urge to engage in regular binge episodes which are accompanied by the aftermath of feelings such as anger, shame, and guilt, and in turn, is really distressing for the person. It impacts the decisions of a client in all parts of their life – whether it be in their relationships, work-life, social settings, and their meal routines. Clients can have a great fear of judgment by others, so they will even go to the lengths of eating in secret to conceal their disorder.’
So, binge eating is far more persistent and involves an intense drive to overeat regularly. It accompanied by feelings of shame, feeling out of control, and guilt.
Here are some differences between the two:
Typical examples of overeating are:
- Going back for seconds, or having an extra dessert after finishing your dinner occasionally
- Accidently finishing a whole bag of chips or popcorn while enjoying a movie
Typical examples of binging are:
- Sneaking your favourites snacks into your room and eating them all in secret
- Finishing two or three burgers in one sitting even though you are already full and then feeling guilty and ashamed about it.
What causes binge eating disorder?
There is no one simple explanation as to why eating disorders begin. Eating disorders can occur in both males and females of any age and can be due to a combination of factors. Some people have no obvious reasons, or some may have low self-esteem or body dissatisfaction. For others, they may have a family history of eating disorders or have experienced abuse or trauma during childhood.
Binge eating disorder often surfaces in the late teenage years or early adulthood. Around 2% of men and 3.5% of women, will experience B.E.D during their life.
Binge eating can also be linked to:
- Alcohol and drug use
Common warning signs of binge eating disorder
Some common signs and symptoms of B.E.D are:
- Eating large portions of food to the point of feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating even though you are not hungry
- Eating more rapidly than usual
- Feeling a compulsive urge to eat
- Feeling that your eating behaviour is beyond control
- Feeling upset, guilty, ashamed, or disgusted at your eating habits
- Dieting frequently
- Experiencing anxiety and depression
- Eating alone in secret because of embarrassment
- Spending an excessive amount of money on food
- Preoccupation with food and weight
Treatment for binge eating disorder
If you think you may be struggling with an eating disorder, the first step is to speak with your GP. It is important to seek professional treatment right away to avoid serious medical problems. Usually, the recommended treatment for B.E.D is psychological therapy, along with healthy eating, stress management, and exercise. The good news is that many people with an eating disorder make a good recovery, although it takes time and effort.
We asked Georgie to explain a little about her approach when treating clients with B.E.D at Positive Mind Works. She answers:
‘Treatment is about:
- Identifying unhelpful eating patterns. Many clients have set themselves up with food rules in an attempt to manipulate their body’s shape and size. However, this can lead to unrealistic and unhealthy approaches to food where compensatory behaviours, such as restricting or excessive exercise, give them “permission” or “a buffer” to engage in binges. Treatment is about creating regular eating patterns and giving permission to all foods that in the past might have been deemed “bad” or “unhealthy” foods.
- Connecting to your bodily cues: Many clients have ignored their bodily cues in the past, which can lead them to eat to a point of discomfort. Reintroducing clients to hunger cues, as well as mindful eating strategies helps with connecting back to their body’s sensation of hunger and fullness.
- Addressing urges through offering alternative skills and strategies that can distract and soothe them as they work through the distress of wanting to engage in a binge.
- Addressing body image concerns’
Try these tips to avoid binging:
- Keep a food diary – this will help you to identify patterns and learn when you typically tend to binge.
- Eat regular meals and snacks – as this will help you to keep your blood sugar stable and prevent you from getting hungry enough to binge.
- Watch your portions – don’t reach for a large bag or chips or tub of ice cream and head to the sofa to watch TV. Instead, measure out a single serving size onto a small plate or bowl. You may be less likely to eat too much if you must keep getting up for more.
- Identify why you are binging – if it is due to underlying reasons, such as feeling anxious or depressed, find a better way to cope with these emotions, and seek professional help to address these issues.
At Positive Mind Works, we provide online help for eating disorders and weight loss. Our services provide easy access to trusted and evidence-based support through our experienced psychologists – from the comfort of your own home! Contact us today to book an initial 20-minute consultation ($19) to see how you could benefit.