Binge eating is a term used to describe an instance where a person eats an abnormally large amount of food even though they are not really hungry, while feeling a loss of control. Even though they know this is not part of a normal eating pattern, he or she feels powerless to stop and will continue to eat until they are uncomfortably full.
During a binge eating episode (which may go on for several hours, sometimes even days), large quantities of different types of foods are consumed that don’t necessarily go together. Several different food outlets may be visited one after another in no logical order.
For example, in Lauren Greenfield’s documentary ‘Thin’, Alisa Williams gives an account of the foods she ate in one of her binge eating episodes. These were:
- 12 donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts
- 3 biscuits and a croissant from Burger King
- A few breakfast items from McDonald’s
- 2 half gallons of ice cream, 2 bottles of whipped cream, pastries, peanut butter and marshmallows from the grocery store
Feelings of disgust, self-loathing and depression usually follow a binge eating episode.
Binge eating can be chronic and persistent and go on for many years, yet the sufferer just can’t seem to find a way to stop even though they have tried desperately.
What Binge Eating is Not
Who hasn’t sat down and eaten half a box of chocolates, an extra serving of dessert, or finished someone else’s leftovers?
Over indulgence every now and again and at Christmas, Easter, parties and other special occasions may make us feel a little guilty, but this isn’t binge eating.
The key difference between binge eating and eating too much is the feeling of being out of control and the distress that is experienced after a binge. Sometimes an individual feels they don’t even have control over the urge to binge.
Why do People Binge Eat?
Binge eating is not in response to hunger, but often has an emotional root. Food is used as a comforter, and temporarily helps a person to block out painful feelings and to reduce anxiety or depression.
Sometimes a person may binge eat if they have been dieting and trying to lose weight. A binge is triggered because of the lack of food and feelings of food deprivation, which may in turn initiate a vicious cycle. Binge eating may lead to weight gain, which induces feelings of self-loathing and distress and triggers more binge eating in order to cope.
Research suggests some people may be genetically predisposed to developing binge eating habits, and the abundance of food in the form of fast food outlets, convenience foods and high sugar foods acts as a trigger for these behaviours.
Some people who binge eat have reported having problems with binge drinking in the past.
Binge eating often leads to weight gain (but not always), and is associated with obesity and obesity-related complications.
Binge eating causes great physical and mental distress and should be taken seriously. It is also a feature of bulimia and binge-eating disorder, and sometimes anorexia.