General Health Monday May 16, 2016

What is Binge Eating Disorder and How to Help

What is binge eating?

Binge eating is when a person overeats in a short time period. Those who binge on food will often have no control over what they are doing, or a limited urge to stop, until after they have finished. Some feel ashamed of their behaviour afterwards as well, which can be a vicious circle.

It's a problem because bingeing results in weight gain and potentially brings about illnesses such as diabetes. As sugar crashes after a binge, sending mixed messages to the brain, binges can result in cravings and further sugar crashes that are difficult to stop.

Is Bingeing Common?

The NHS estimates that 1 in 30 to 1 in 50 of us may develop binge eating disorder at some point. Young adults tend to be affected the most, but delay treatment until they reach their 30s and 40s. Slightly more women suffer than men, but it's pretty even across the board in terms of gender.

Isn't it just greediness?

No. Binge eating is often a reaction to an unhappy mental state. The disorder is not properly understood but experts think bingeing is a coping tool for stress. Children who were given sweets when they hurt themselves may crave that comfort as an adult when faced with life's difficulties. This kind of comfort eating may provide short term relief, but bingers do this to excess and frequently. Triggers include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Low self-esteem
  • Traumatic events from the past
  • A family history of eating disorder
  • Following a strict diet that involves cutting back on food intake
  • There is some evidence that the hypothalamus may not relay the correct messages in people who binge. The hypothalamus is the section of brain that regulates the appetite
  • Low levels of serotonin may also contribute to binge eating

How Do I know if I Binge Eat or if I Simply Eat Too Much?

Indulging at the pizza 'all you can eat' buffet once a week is not healthy, but it isn't binge eating. Here are some of the common feelings experienced by binge eaters:

  • Feeling out of control when eating
  • Feeling powerless to stop even when you're full and uncomfortable
  • Eating until you're sick
  • Thinking about food constantly
  • Eating in secret
  • Feeling ashamed and angry after you've binged
  • Eating to deal with emotions

This is a frequent occurrence for the condition to be classed as 'binge eating disorder'.

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What Are The Risks?

People affected by psychological problems may use binge eating as a coping tool, but it has no benefit because the root cause of their problem is not addressed.

As well as leaving problems untreated, frequent binge eating can also lead to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and erectile dysfunction. This is turn leads to more depression, lower self-esteem and unhappiness. It's a vicious cycle that's difficult to escape.

How to help

It's important to seek out help if you binge eat because it's treatable. The basic treatment is often to begin disassociating food with emotions and learning to treat food simply as nutrition.

Treatments include self help programs, medications such as SSRI's, or psychological treatments. Some self help programs are available online, which is beneficial for those suffering from anxiety or depression.

Alongside psychological treatments any resultant obesity must also be addressed. A sensible diet of healthy foods and regular meals alongside exercise is a vital part of reducing binges and losing weight. Without reducing weight levels, binge eaters can develop serious life threatening illnesses including heart disease. A practice nurse or GP can help with a diet and exercise plan.

Here are some self help tips to prevent bingeing:

  • Clear out the cupboards removing foods such as crisps, ice-cream and desserts.
  • Figure out the difference between hunger and emotional need. Tummy rumbling indicates real hunger. Drinking a big glass of water and wait for the craving to pass will help to identify the difference.
  • Keep a diary of emotions and binge responses to identify what emotion, if any, results in a binge.
  • Pay attention to food and enjoy the flavours. Bingers should eat slowly, without the distraction of TV or internet.
  • Eat regularly because hunger can trigger a binge. Stock up on healthy snacks such as fruit.
  • Avoid strict diets that cut out regular mealtimes.
  • Boredom can trigger bingeing. A new hobby, phoning a friend and reading are good distractions.
  • Exercise and make sure you get enough sleep to ensure good body health.
  • Manage stress levels at home and work. Stress and pressure are binge eating triggers.
  • Be kind. A slip up does not mean its game over. Identify what went wrong and start over again.
  • Friends and family may find it difficult to spot the signs because bringing is often done in secret.
  • Supporting a binge eater is about understanding and encouragement. Outsiders shouldn't criticise, guilt trip or nag, but offer distractions and encouragement to seek out professional help if they need it.

Binge eating is a disorder than makes people feel ashamed, anxious and embarrassed. It can be difficult to get under control without the necessary psychological help before the disorder leads to obesity. If you're binge eating because of emotions, speak to someone and get the help you deserve. It's Mental Health Week 16th -22nd of May so there's no time like the present to ensure your mental health is in good order.

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