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Binge Eating Disorder – Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

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Victor Anunobi
Victor Anunobi is an environmentalist, writer and movie enthusiast living in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. He enjoys long walks, food and alternative music.

Sometimes people can eat a little too much, especially during special occasions like birthdays and holidays. Binge eating disorder, however, is very different.

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Binge eating is the rapid and uncontrollable consumption of copious amounts of food within a short time. This makes the person feels guilty and ashamed, with a desire to hide their eating habits.

Binge eating, unlike eating for pleasure, typically stems from a range of unresolved mental and emotional health issues such as heartbreak and body image issues. It could even occur as a result of a medical condition.

Binge eating disorder has been officially recognized as a health issue. Studies have shown that it affects approximately 2 percent of people globally. It can also exacerbate problems associated with diets such as diabetes and high cholesterol level.

Because it is not just about food alone but also underlying mental and emotional health issues, it has been classified as a psychiatric disorder. Binge eating develops as a coping mechanism to deal with issues like anxiety or depression.

Causes and Risk Factors of Binge Eating Disorder

The exact cause of binge eating disorder is unclear. Several factors can, however, increase one’s risk of developing binge eating disorder.

  • Age: Binge eating disorder can affect any age group. However, it can be first observed in the late teens and early twenties. It is not surprising that binge eating disorder is especially prevalent amongst college students, and may go together with concerns about body image and excessive exercising.
  • Personal and family history: Growing up in a family overly concerned with body shape and size may predispose one to develop binge eating disorder. Also, the chances may increase if the individual has another eating disorder, addiction, or depression.
  • Other eating disorders: People have a higher risk of binge eating disorder if they have other eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions like diabetes and Prader-Willi syndrome can trigger one to eat uncontrollably.
  • Mental health issues and emotional trauma: People with binge eating disorder typically have at least one other psychological condition. They feel they do not have control over their eating and use food to cope with psychological problems like anxiety, stress, boredom, depression. Furthermore, traumatic life events like childhood abuse and bullying, death, car accidents, or separation from a family member are risk factors of binge eating disorder.
  • Personality traits: An individual with an obsessive personality type such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has an increased risk of binge eating disorder.
  • Sexual abuse: People experiencing sexual abuse or intimate partner violence may use food as a way to cope with their reality.
  • Body image: Society and the media’s expectations of how a person should look lie may trigger a binge eating disorder. An intense focus on having abs; being skinny or muscular may increase the risk of a binge eating disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder causes people to eat a lot of food in a short amount of time, even when they are not hungry. The person may feel some sense of relief while eating but may experience intense feelings of shame and loss of control after.

Symptoms of binge eating disorder include;

  • Eating more rapidly than normal
  • Eating copious amounts of food without feeling hungry
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone due to feeling shame and embarrassment
  • Feelings of guilt with yourself

Diagnosis

In 2013, the American Psychological Association (APA) added binge eating disorder to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), a list of mental health diagnoses.

According to the manual, the individual must binge eat at least once a week for three months for a diagnosis to be confirmed.

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Unlike bulimia and anorexia, binge eating does not usually involve fasting, purging, use of laxatives, and excessive exercise, although the person may sometimes do this.

People with binge eating disorder may also;

  • Have intense feelings of panic, depression, lack of control, anxiety or despair
  • Hide empty food containers
  • Diet frequently in a bid to lose weight but find it difficult to diet
  • Feel that they have no control over their eating behavior
  • Hoard food

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce the frequency of binges and improve emotional and mental well-being.

Treatment options for binge eating disorder involve the following:

Counseling

This goal of this is to address feelings of low self-esteem, shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, and other issues.

A method of counseling is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people new and healthy ways to resolve conflicts and deal with problems.

Interpersonal psychotherapy also seeks to identify specific issues associated with negative eating behavior, acknowledge it, and then make necessary and constructive changes over time.

Furthermore, nutritional counseling can help an individual develop less harmful and more healthful ways of eating.

Medication

Medications like Prozac may help the person treat underlying conditions like anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The doctor may also prescribe appetite suppressants.

Weight Control

This focuses on helping people lose weight that may stem from binge eating behavior. It also seeks to address body image issues and improve self-esteem.

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The purpose of this therapy is to make healthy lifestyle changes with respect to diet and exercise as well and regulate food intake throughout the day.

Prevention

Binge eating disorder is not a condition that can be prevented. However, it can be controlled to reduce the risk and prevent complications. Binge eating disorder can be detrimental to one’s health.

It is necessary to seek medical attention if you have binge eating disorder. The following ways by which a person at risk of developing the disorder can control their eating;

  • Keeping a food diary can help a person to identify their food consumption patterns, the type of food, and what triggers a sudden and false sense of hunger.
  • Eating foods low in sugar can help control binge eating. This is because low-sugar foods release sugar slowly throughout the day compared to sugary foods and beverages that contribute to fluctuations in glucose levels.
  • Frequent consumption of smaller portions of food can help you feel full throughout the day and prevent fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which may lead to diabetes.
  • It is crucial to find someone to talk to and support you. It may be a partner, friend, family, online, and offline binge eating support groups.

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