Overeating is a scenario where you eat more food than what your body requires. Eating more food occasionally might not do a significant harm to the body as much as the overeating that becomes a ‘normalized routine’. Binge eating, on the other hand, is a more complicated disorder.
Let’s understand the difference between overeating & binge eating with simple examples –
- You are on vacation. You are not keeping a calorie count; your stomach is screeching due to exhaustion, but you don’t care and eat to capacity! In another instance, you are at a wedding and create similar chaos with your digestive system. These
instances of overeating or mindless eating can dramatically make you gain weight if you choose to make it a lifestyle.
- In another scenario, it is an ordinary day, but you are emotionally down, or your hormones are acting up.
- You do not stop eating even after you are full
- You are eating even if you are not hungry
- You stockpile food (secretly) to consume at a later point
But all these things are not particularly making you happy but relieving momentary stress, but adding to your feeling of shame or guilt. If such instances occur more than twice a week and continue for a few months, it could be a case of Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
So, what constitutes binge eating disorder?
- The disorder is often termed as compulsive overeating. It is a state that primarily affects the brain and then the body. A person with this disorder doesn’t seem to have control of his food intake, which can lead to unwanted weight gain or obesity.
- BED can occur in both men & women of average weight. The episodes of binge eating occur on an average of twice/ week and continue for about six months till it is diagnosed.
- It is usually associated with comorbidities such as anxiety or depression. People with BED often suffer from negative emotions like guilt, shame, disgust, etc., which makes them overeat to cope with their condition.
- People with BED tend to eat in the usual fashion when they are in public, but devour when alone.
- It is more common in women than in men. In the US, 3.5% of women & 2% of men have BED, and about every two people out of 3, with this condition, are obese.
- A lot of factors can contribute to binge eating. Psychological factors; biological factors like hormonal imbalance, genetic mutation, etc.; social pressures, people with an experience of traumatic situations, etc., are more vulnerable to this condition.
Consequences of binge eating
BED makes people consume food with high sugar, salt & fat, and with less nutritive value. Apart from gaining excess weight, they are at a high risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, heart diseases, diseases of the gall bladder, gastrointestinal disorders, etc.
Managing binge eating
Binge eating, over time, leads to obesity. To combat & cope with body dissatisfaction, you tend to eat more, and thus begins a vicious cycle.
A tricky part about BED is that if you plan to diet or starve, the whole exercise usually backfires! Sondra Kronberg, Spokesperson for National Eating Disorders Association, USA, says, “When you restrict food or certain calories to lose weight, you feel deprived. Bingeing makes you feel better, at least temporarily. But you feel guilty about doing that and try to make up for it by not eating enough, only to binge again.”
If you feel you have been binge eating or you have a loved one or a friend who is prone to BED, make sure –
- You talk to your primary care provider. Treatment for BED requires a team consisting of a counsellor, psychiatrist, psychologist, nutritionist, and a therapist. Your GP will help you get in touch with this team.
- Talk to Eating disorder support groups to hold you up emotionally.
The immediate effect of binge eating is weight gain. The treatment focuses on figuring out what is pushing one to binge eat and replace adverse thoughts with positive emotions & actions.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy, etc., help understand the underlying reasons and the triggers.
- Medications like antidepressants, anticonvulsants (to suppress appetite), lisdexamfetamine (to suppress the desire to binge eat), etc. will help manage the condition.
While a person is on treatment for BED, the doctor always focuses on mental health rather than the physical attributes. The objective of BED treatment is to replace negative thoughts with healthier ones and more realistic ones. Once we control a person’s thoughts, weight loss, and tackling obesity becomes a relatively simpler process.