It is estimated that nearly 8 million people suffer from eating disorders, with a large percentage of those people engaging in binge eating. According to the online Webster’s College Dictionary, a binge is defined as “a short period of time when you do too much of something.” In the eating disorder world that “something” is generally eating (though it could also be exercise, alcohol or even shopping).
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most recently clinically accepted disorder by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). It is defined as eating a portion of food that is considered “large” by most people in a distinct period of time (e.g., a large bag of potato chips in 10 minutes) – with binges happening twice a week for at least six months. During a binge people often feel a loss of self-control and are literally unable to stop themselves from eating. Food is eaten at a rapid pace until the person is uncomfortably full. After the binge, feelings of distress, shame, guilt and embarrassment are often felt. These debilitating emotions can leave the person feeling hopeless and depressed, which often leads to more overeating. Sometimes, however, people feel calmer after a binge or even numb, in these cases binging is a self-soothing act.
Like BED, people with Bulimia Nervosa (BN) also consume a large amount of food during a specific time frame, however with BN there are also compensatory behaviors that follow the binge in order to rid the body of the calories consumed, such as self-induced vomiting, extreme exercise or the use of laxatives or diuretics. Over time these compensatory behaviors have very damaging effects on the body including dehydration, erosion of tooth enamel, chronic sore throat, loss of electrolytes, distension of stomach and esophagus and weakened cardiac muscle.
Even though people with BED do not engage in compensatory behaviors, continual large-scale binges can have negative effects on the body, including quick weight gain and obesity, which is associated with may chronic diseases.
Eating regularly throughout the day (every 3-4 hours) and combining fat, protein and carbohydrates can help mitigate a hunger-driven binge. If the binges are emotionally based (e.g., excessive eating in response to uncomfortable emotions), finding other soothing coping skills is key. Some examples include going for a walk, doing art, journaling or talking to a friend.
By Kate Haisch, RD