Although most people overeat occasionally, binge eating disorder is characterized by recurring episodes of binge eating that are usually driven by emotions, not hunger. Binge eating is often a means of coping with depression, stress or low self-esteem.
Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms
The main binge eating disorder symptom is uncontrolled eating. During a binge, the individual feels powerless to stop eating. He eats even when he isn’t hungry and continues eating even after he’s uncomfortably full. He eats rapidly, barely tasting the food at all. Typical binge foods include high-fat, high-sugar “comfort foods,” such as chocolate and potato chips. A binge episode usually ends when the individual is extremely uncomfortable, is interrupted or runs out of food.
Unlike bulimia, binge eating symptoms don’t include purging after a binge episode. “Purging” refers to attempts to prevent weight gain after a binge. Bulimics may force themselves to vomit or take diuretics, laxatives or other substances to get rid of food calories. Purging can also refer to exercising intensively in order to burn calories.
Psychological and Behavioral Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
Anxiety and depression are common binge eating symptoms. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2009), up to 50 percent of all binge eaters suffer, or have suffered, from depression. Binge eaters often feel extremely distressed, guilty and ashamed of their uncontrolled eating habits and their weight. This heightens their sense of worthlessness, contributing to the negative emotions that spark the next binge episode. Binge eaters often eat alone, because they are too ashamed to let others see them eat.
Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
Outward signs of binge eating disorder can be difficult to detect, because binge eaters may be obese or of average weight. Binge eating disorder, however, is slightly more prevalent among obese people. According to the American Psychological Association (2002), approximately 8 percent of obese people suffer from binge eating disorder, compared with 2 percent of the general population.
In many cases, binge eaters are also dieters. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (2010) reports that as many as 30 percent of weight loss program participants meet the criteria for binge eating disorder. Binge eaters often try to diet after a binge, but this can create a sense of deprivation that leads to more binge eating.
If you think you or someone you love may have binge eating disorder, get help. Eating disorders are mental health disorders that require specialized treatment, and the chance of recovery is much better if you seek professional help.
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National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (2010). Binge eating disorder. Retrieved August 13, 2010, from http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/
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