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Despite individuals often believing they are one of only a few who struggle, binge eating is not unusual in western culture. It is the most common eating disorder and it is estimated that 47% of Australians who have an eating disorder suffer from binge eating disorder (BED). Research suggests an equal number of men and women develop binge eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder is characterised by repeated behaviours of eating a large quantity of food in a short time frame (usually within 2 hours) and feeling a sense of loss of control and inability to stop eating.
Other common characteristics include:
- Eating more quickly than normal
- Eating past the point of feeling full
- Eating large amounts of food despite not being hungry
- Eating “normal” quantities of food in social settings and binging when alone
- Eating in secret
- Feeling guilty, disgusted, depressed or full of self-hatred afterwards
People who binge eat tend to not use methods such as purging, laxatives, fasting or over-exercising to compensate. Binge eating can also have a dissociative quality to it, which means the individual often feels disconnected from themselves and their emotions. This time limited reprieve and spacing out is often a big motivating factor for why a person engages in binge eating. People who binge eat can go a long time without seeking help due to feeling immense shame.
Reasons people binge eat
People binge eat for many different reasons unique to their life experiences. A common reason that people engage in binge eating is to distract themselves from uncomfortable emotions or psychological states. Some reasons for binge eating include;
- Being alone
- Having no distractions from their internal experience
- Feeling empty
- Feeling emotions that the person experiences as uncomfortable such as feeling sad, depressed, angry, lonely, etc.
- Negative thoughts and feelings about one’s body, shape or weight
- Attempting to cope with past trauma
- Comparing oneself and/or body to others
- Feeling unlovable
- Experiencing a form of rejection or abandonment
- When rest and restoration is needed, but pushing through takes precedence
- A result of restricting one’s calorie intake or attempting to rigidly avoid particular foods
- Finding themselves past the point of hunger and feeling ravenous
Myths and Common Beliefs
- Binge eating means you lack willpower, self-control and discipline
- To stop binge eating you just need to become tougher and fiercer towards yourself and force yourself to stop
- Binge eating means you are disgusting and unlovable
Whatever the individual reasons for binge eating, many people acknowledge that it gets in the way of feeling fully alive and impacts on their capacity to enjoy relationships. For some, this way of eating and living has been formed to protect them from the pain and vulnerability that they have experienced in their past.
Risk Factors of Binge Eating Disorder
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of stroke and/or heart disease
- Kidney failure
- Sleep apnea
- Feeling tired and not sleeping well
- Feeling bloated, constipated or developing intolerances to food
- Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight
- Extreme body dissatisfaction and shame about appearance
- Feelings of extreme distress, sadness, anxiety and guilt during and after a binge episode
- Low self esteem
- Increased sensitivity to comments relating to food, weight, body shape, exercise
- Depression, anxiety or irritability
- Hoarding food
- Secretive behaviour relating to food
- Increased isolation and withdrawal from social activities
- Reckless behaviour (i.e. spending large amounts of money on food despite being on a budget)
Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder
Many people who struggle with binge eating have tried numerous diets, weight loss programs, including resorting to bariatric surgery. Individuals with binge eating disorder may have less successful long–term outcomes from bariatric surgery. This is often due to the psychological aspects of binge eating not being addressed prior to undergoing surgery.
Individual psychotherapy can be helpful to explore one’s relationship with food and understand the role food plays in the person’s life. In addition to individual treatment approaches, group therapy led by a trained eating disorder therapist, as well as eating disorder support groups, can also be effective methods of recovering from binge-eating disorder.
Many people with an eating disorder or eating difficulties do not seek help due to shame and people can suffer in isolation for years or even decades. If you have binge eating disorder or struggle with body image or your relationship with food it can be helpful to explore these issues with a Psychologist experienced working in this area. If you would like to book an appointment contact Diane McGeachy. You might also like to read about our new Online Body Image and Mindful Eating Program.
Phone: (03) 6285 8592
Hobart Counselling Centre
181 Elizabeth Street Hobart TAS 7000