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Although less well known than either bulimia or anorexia nervosa, binge eating is the most prevalent of all eating disorders, and has been recognized since 1992 as a mental health condition.

Although many binge eaters are obese, their problem is not primarily dietary in nature - rather it is the way they use food in response to emotional triggers or as a coping mechanism, that needs addressing for recovery.

A binge eater eats as a bulimic would eat and for many of the same reasons, but does not purge after binging.

Characteristics of Binge Eaters

Binge eaters eat to block negative feelings, as a way to cope with anxiety, depression or loneliness or as a way to feel comfort. During an eating binge, large quantities of food get consumed very rapidly and eating continues until the binge eater is uncomfortably full. Binge eaters almost always feel shame, self loathing and guilt after an eating session, but do not purge themselves of the food.

Most binge eaters feel ashamed of the way they eat but powerless to alter their behavior. Most will eat alone, and avoid social situations involving food. Binge eaters frequently suffer social isolation as a result.

There may be a biological basis to binge eating, as having one binge eater in the family increases the odds of having another. As many as half of all binge eaters suffer past or present depressions, and binge eaters are also more prone to substance abuse and other addictions. Binge eaters are at an increased risk for suicide.

Binge Eating Treatment

Depending on the severity of the condition, binge eaters may become very obese, and suffer health deficits common to obesity. Many binge eaters believe that they would be far happier if only they could lose weight. Unfortunately, dietary treatments alone do not offer long term assistance to the binge eater. Without resolving the psychological issues underlying binging behaviors, even if weight is lost in the short term, unresolved compulsions make any weight loss quite temporary.

Binge eaters need psychiatric treatment for recovery, and treatment works. Most therapy regimens combine psychotherapy, support group meetings and cognitive behavioral therapies. Medications may help to treat underlying mental health conditions,

Signs of Binge Eating

  • Rapid weight gain
  • Out of control eating
  • Low self esteem or depression
  • Hoarding food or hiding food wrappers
  • Eating only when alone

Health Risks of Binge Eating

Binge eating logically leads to an increased risk for serious obesity. Some of the health consequences binge eaters may experience include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Cancer
  • Gallbladder conditions
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lessened mobility
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Depression

Binge eaters eat when they are not hungry, they eat fast, they're out of control and they eat a lot. Binge eating is not a willpower issue or a dietary issue. Binge eating is a mental health disorder needing mental health treatment.

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Page last updated Aug 09, 2012

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