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Medical Daily
Medical Daily
Suneeta Sunny

Understand And Manage Binge Eating: Insights From Experts During Eating Disorders Awareness Week

In the United States, an estimated 30 million people experience eating disorders. (Credit: Image by DC studio on Freepik)

Eating disorders, which encompass serious and sometimes life-threatening conditions, impact individuals of all backgrounds, disturbing their eating patterns. In the United States, an estimated 28 million people will experience it during their lifetime.

As we observe Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we at Medical Daily engaged experts to bring a better understanding of binge eating, one of the most common eating disorders, shedding light on its signs and offering effective management strategies.

Overeating Vs Binge eating- Know the difference:

Overeating and binge eating are two distinct behaviors, although they may share some similarities, according to Libby Supan, a certified intuitive eating coach and licensed marriage and family therapist from Long Beach, California.

"Overeating refers to consuming more food than one's body needs at a given meal or snack, often leading to discomfort or feeling overly full. On the other hand, binge eating is a specific disordered eating behavior by recurrent episodes of consuming large quantities of food in a short period, accompanied by a feeling of loss of control and distress," Supan told Medical Daily.

The concept of 'overeating' is subjective, varying among individuals due to factors like cultural norms and individual metabolism. Unlike occasional overeating, binge eating is characterized by frequent episodes, even without physical hunger, and can lead to a serious disorder that requires professional intervention.

"It's crucial to understand the distinction between the two, as binge eating disorder is a recognized mental health condition that warrants specialized care and support," she said.

The feeling of being "compulsive and out of control when around food or when eating," makes binge eating different from overeating, Nicole Cruz, an anti-diet registered dietitian and family nutrition consultant told Medical Daily.

"Overeating is simply eating past your fullness, while binge eating is eating done in a short period on larger amounts of food than considered normal, and a sense of lack of control during the episode. Binge eating is marked with distress, guilt, and shame. Binge eating has a psychological component and it is utilized as a coping skill to manage emotions," Casey Bonano, registered dietitian, and certified eating disorder specialist from Dallas Nutritional Counseling told Medical Daily.

Understand the signs of binge eating:

Consuming large amounts of food within a short period, feeling a lack of control over eating, rapid eating, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating alone or in secret due to feelings of shame about the amount of food being consumed, feeling distressed, guilty, or depressed after eating episodes are some of the signs of binge eating disorder.

"Binge eating episodes occur at least once a week for three months or longer. It's important to note that individuals with BED (binge eating disorder) may not engage in compensatory behaviors such as purging or excessive exercise, which are commonly seen in other eating disorders like bulimia nervosa. Additionally, BED can occur in individuals of any body size or shape and is not solely determined by weight," Supan explained.

The guilt and shame from binge eating episodes can lead an individual to social withdrawal or sleep as a coping mechanism against physical and emotional discomfort, Cruz added.

Causes of binge eating disorder:

According to Supan, one major factor that triggers binge eating disorder is food restriction. "Chronic dieting or rigid food rules can profoundly impact an individual's relationship with food and body. Restrictive eating patterns disrupt hunger and fullness cues, leading to feelings of deprivation and increasing the likelihood of binge eating episodes. When certain foods are labeled as off-limits or restricted, they often become more enticing and trigger intense cravings. Consequently, individuals may experience overwhelming urges to binge as a result of prolonged restriction," she said.

The history of deprivation either from dieting or from other factors such as actual starvation from food insecurity is a crucial trigger according to Cruz. Moreover, there's often a dichotomy between "good" and "bad" foods, leading to feelings of shame when desiring restricted foods.

Apart from deprivation, psychological factors such as emotional distress, stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or body dissatisfaction, can also contribute to binge eating behaviors. Some individuals use food as a coping mechanism to manage negative emotions or traumatic experiences, Supan explained.

Predisposition to certain genes and environmental factors such as

societal pressure to attain an ideal body shape or weight can aggravate body dissatisfaction and disordered eating patterns. In certain cases, binge eating disorder occurs along with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or substance abuse.

Tips to manage binge eating:

According to Supan, the first step to recovery from binge eating involves normalizing eating patterns by establishing a balanced and consistent approach to eating. Seeking therapy, nutritional counseling, help from support groups, and self-care practices are some of the other strategies that could benefit.

"In some cases, healthcare providers may prescribe medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or certain antidepressants, to help manage symptoms of BED. These medications can help regulate mood, reduce binge eating episodes, and alleviate co-occurring symptoms of depression or anxiety," Supan said.

The most important strategy for managing binge eating, according to Cruz is to give oneself unconditional permission to eat. "We must remove the scarcity and sense of deprivation. Once we habituate and feel safe, like we're allowed to eat food and eat as much as we want, much of the compulsive energy related to eating subsides. Another necessary tool is to create food neutrality or get rid of any judgment about various foods or what one 'should' be eating."

Bonano recommends consulting a trained eating disorder dietitian and therapist who could help them with specific coping skills. Restricting oneself from the foods one binges on will only make things worse, she added.

Binge eating in children:

For parents who struggle with their children's binge eating habits, Supan recommends the following strategies:

  1. Encourage a positive food relationship, avoiding labels like "good" or "bad" for foods.
  2. Foster open communication and create a supportive environment, promoting mindful eating.
  3. Urge children to express emotional needs and assist them in addressing stress and anxiety without resorting to food for comfort.
  4. Avoid discussing topics like dieting, weight loss, or body dissatisfaction in front of children.
  5. Consider seeking professional support for additional guidance.
  6. Take the initiative to educate yourself about binge eating disorder.

"Permitting kids to eat as much food as they want while creating a neutral environment and allowing their children to eat a variety of different foods without judgment. This means providing access to foods that parents may deem as 'bad' or 'unhealthy'," Cruz said.

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