Binge eating on and off when you are sad or depressed is normal. However, making it a habit and finding persistent comfort in junk food may cause a serious mental health illness that should be addressed immediately.
At least 28.8 million adults in the US suffer from eating disorders. Binge eating disorder is a serious mental condition affecting millions of people worldwide. It has the highest prevalence rate after opioid overdose.
We eat to live and survive. Unfortunately, it is the opposite for people suffering from binge eating disorder who overeat dangerously as a coping mechanism that helps them overcome stress and feel better temporarily.
This article will cover all the details of binge eating disorder so you can help yourself and others around you who might be experiencing the symptoms.
What is a Binge Eating Disorder?
This section provides a short explanation of what binge eating disorder is.
Chronic unhealthy food consumption patterns to relieve depression and other stress-related triggers result in an uncontrollable eating disorder characterized majorly by overeating, called Binge eating disorder.
Anything overdone, recurringly, has potential side effects, and this also applies to the food you eat on a daily basis. Consuming balanced meal portions with plenty of nutrient-dense foods is crucial for maintaining a healthy mind-body connection.
However, we humans are not programmed bots. It is okay to have cheat days or overeat sometimes to celebrate birthdays, festivals, and special occasions. You cannot really resist the temptation to have a piece or two of a delicious plum cake and other goodies on Christmas, can you?
So, it is not a crime, and you can binge eat once in a while. But, it may become a severely concerning issue when you start overdoing it, almost being persistent at it to achieve solace and mental or emotional stability in the form of food.
If you or anyone you know is currently developing such food habits, they are about to build a negative relationship with their food, which is never a good option. Especially if that person gets body image issues later and starts chasing weight loss, it will be hard for them as there are potential health risks.
How Does Binge Eating Work to Help you De-stress?
In this section, I will talk about the science of how food works as a stress-buster.
We love food, don’t we? It is common to satisfy our junk food cravings generally triggered in stressful situations. Stress-eating is a widely observed coping mechanism. Why does this happen?
It is because extreme stress levels in the body release a steroid hormone by the endocrine and adrenal glands. It’s the fight-or-flight response of your body when it is physically and mentally distressed.
Although cortisol has multiple important functions, such as controlling inflammation, regulating the metabolism, and more, too much of it can be disastrous for your health. An increase in this stress hormone can create a quick surge of high energy needs in the body, triggering an increase in your hunger or appetite.
You overeat in response to this false or artificially triggered hunger alarm and bring down the elevated cortisol levels in your body. It’s why you feel relaxed and de-stressed for a short time after binge eating.
Imagine the above cycle being repeated every day, over and over again! It eventually transitions to binge eating disorder and other life-threatening lifestyle-connected health issues such as obesity, pre-diabetes, diabetes, chronic hormonal disturbances, serious cardiovascular problems, and more.
Causes of Binge Eating Disorder
This section will cover the key causes of binge eating disorder.
There is no definitive set of causes known to trigger binge eating disorder. In most cases, it develops gradually as the stress levels start mounting until the patient is unable to control their food cravings.
Also, an already existing mental health condition or comorbidity can further exacerbate the problem.
An unknown mix of multiple factors, such as current mental health status, genetics, and surrounding environment, can contribute to binge eating disorder.
I am listing some of them below:
- Genetic predisposition or family history puts you at immediate risk
- Hormonal issues affecting eating habits daily
- Psychological triggers such as low self-esteem, anxiety, loneliness, trauma, depression, or grief
- Lower than required serotonin in the brain and other biological problems
- Being bullied or body-shamed causes stress and isolation, which eventually leads to impulse-driven binge-eating
- Dismissive parents can trigger binge eating disorder in their kids because children may resort to overeating for comfort
- Unsustainable crash dieting for weight loss triggering suppressed or deprived hunger later can cause excessive eating for a longer time
Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
Let us discuss the important symptoms of binge eating disorder in this section, so you know when it is time to reach out to a mental healthcare provider.
Ensure you are aware of the symptoms below of binge eating disorder so you can approach the problem with targeted treatments.
- Overeating, especially when alone
- Inability to control food consumption at all times
- Tendency to hoard food for later consumption
- Eating continuously on auto-pilot mode under the influence of stress
- Continued to eat despite being full
- Overeating food at other times, including standard meal times
- Eating large amounts of food in one go
- An overwhelming amount of guilt and sadness generally follows binge eating.
- Constantly thinking about food and dwelling on your next meal
- Inability to control your extreme food cravings despite trying your best to
If you or your loved ones are experiencing the above signs and symptoms, the likelihood that you or they are suffering from binge eating disorder increases. However, a full recovery is possible, which I will discuss in the next section.
Treatment and the Path to Recovery
In this part of the article, I will now provide all the available and effective treatment options for binge eating disorder to ensure smooth recovery.
The path to recovery is long and tough, but it is certainly worth it.
Opting for group or family therapy sessions using evidence-based approaches such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy), and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is a great way to get started for recovering from binge eating disorder.
Before the above protocols are used, make sure you are thoroughly diagnosed with any other comorbid conditions so your provider can modify all your care plans accordingly to improve treatment outcomes.
You can also join community support groups to have relatable conversations freely without harboring the fear of being judged. These will help you understand the perspective of others and aid faster recovery.
Behavior-altering and process-oriented group therapy sessions have also been known to support the process of recovery in severe binge eating disorder patients. Apart from therapy or counseling, you can also try out the following tips to support your recovery.
- Talk it out with your close friends and family you trust fully and share your true feelings with them.
- Fighting the urge to overeat unlimited amounts of food is difficult. To get rid of the craving, keep yourself busy with being productive – engage in hobbies, exercise, spend time with friends or pets, watch movies, or do something fun that keeps you distracted.
- Meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises can also effectively control stress, helping you positively address stress-related food cravings.
- Identify the primary triggers of binge eating and record them in a journal or a diary.
- Daily journaling of thoughts and feelings can reinforce positive thoughts and emotions, helping you create a healthy relationship with your food.
- Avoid taking extreme measures to stop binge eating, such as fad diets. This can crumble your entire system.
- Avoid sitting or being idle for long periods.
- Follow a nutritious diet daily, include healthy fats, write all your meals down, and stay hydrated 24×7
- Most importantly, do not eat subconsciously. You need to know what you put inside your body, so be a mindful, skillful eater who always knows what is being consumed.
Binge eating disorder cannot be entirely prevented. However, the major warning signs can help you identify the symptoms and contact licensed mental healthcare experts as soon as possible.
Self-control will go a long way in preventing the treatment from going downhill, so you need to be emotionally strong even if you are taking therapy. A strong mind can conquer anything!
Also, be consistent with your care plan, follow healthy habits, and focus on developing a positive body image for a successful recovery that is long-lasting in the true sense.
Hope the article helped you understand binge eating disorder and ways to address it. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
She is an experienced Clinical Psychologist and Mental Health Writer with a decade of expertise in psychology. Skilled in assessment, therapy, and patient care. Committed to helping individuals through clinical practice and mental health writing at Therapyjourney.co. Passionate about promoting mental well-being and awareness. Open to aligned opportunities.