While the term “bingeing” is often used casually to refer to indulging excessively in something enjoyable, people who engage in binge eating on a regular basis or to an extreme level find this experience to be far from pleasant.
So what exactly is binge eating, and how do we know if it is becoming a problem?
A binge eating episode involves:
Eating a very large amount of food within a short period of time (e.g. within 2 hours) AND
A sense of loss of control while eating (e.g. feeling unable to stop yourself)
Feeling out of control while eating a large amount distinguishes a binge from general overeating. For example, having that second or third helping at a special dinner or eating a lot of sweets and snacks during a movie may be considered a large amount of food eaten in a short period of time, but if you knew you could stop during that process and the eating didn’t feel uncontrollable, these examples wouldn’t be considered binge eating.
For those who experience binge eating regularly, eating such large amounts in an uncontrollable way evokes strong feelings of guilt and shame and binges are often highly distressing. This typically leads to secrecy and attempts to hide evidence of binge eating.
Bingeing may be used to cope with strong emotions such as anxiety or depression or may be a direct response to severe dieting or restrictive eating. If you or someone you know is engaging in binge eating at least once per week or is extremely distressed by their behaviour, seeking support and professional advice is recommended.
Other signs that someone may be experiencing binge eating include:
- Feeling bloated or constipated
- Feeling tired and not sleeping well
- Eating alone or in private, avoiding meals with others
- Using food as a source of comfort
- Secretive behaviour regarding food, e.g. hiding wrappers or food, food “disappearing” from pantry or fridge, saying that they have already eaten
- Low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction
- Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight
There may also be signs of vomiting or other compensatory behaviours, e.g. swollen cheeks/jaw, going to the bathroom after meals, excessive exercising, using diet pills or laxatives etc., but this is not always the case. Binge eating can occur in all eating disorders and may or may not be followed by compensatory behaviours.
Despite the term being used casually, binge eating is a serious issue often associated with other eating disorder symptoms or psychological issues, such as anxiety or depression.
There are a number of medical complications that can be associated with frequent or severe binge eating, such as digestive issues, high blood pressure or cholesterol, kidney problems and osteoarthritis.
Risks associated with compensatory behaviours following a binge also include damage to teeth and digestive organs, disruption to menstrual cycle, and heart complications, such as irregular or slow heartbeat which can lead to heightened risk of heart failure.
For further information on binge eating and eating disorders, please visit:
www.nedc.com.au or www.eatingdisorders.org.au
Recovery from binge eating and eating disorders is possible. There are several effective treatments available to overcome binge eating. It may feel difficult to share your experiences with a health professional, but doing so is the first step towards getting support and feeling better.
If you are concerned that you or someone in your family is demonstrating some of the warning signs of an eating disorder, make an appointment with a psychologist experienced in eating disorders. Please call 03 9741 5222 to make an appointment at Hopscotch & Harmony to discuss any concerns and get support.
About the author:
Tamika Doyle is a Hopscotch & Harmony psychologist skilled in working with teens and adults presenting with body image concerns, low self-esteem and eating disorders. She aims to empower her clients to make positive changes in their lives. Tamika provide evidence based treatment for anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Read more about Tamika