What is binge eating? Binge eating is when you eat a large quantity of food within a short time frame, it’s more emotional overeating which you do probably because the food is there or you are trying to fill a void (1).
With binge eating, you have a feeling that you can’t control how much of what you eat and this may make you upset about your binge eating. You may also feel shy and would want to hide it from everyone around you (2).
Binge eating becomes a disorder when you find yourself overeating regularly, at least once a week for three months with a feeling of shame, guilt, or that you can not control it.
Is Binge Eating Same As Bulimia Nervosa?
No, it is not. In Bulimia nervosa, the sufferer tries to prevent gaining weight after binge eating by inducing vomiting, over-exercising, fasting or taking diuretics or laxatives (1). This implies that with binge eating, compensatory behaviors are absent. (8).
Is Binge Eating Disorder Very Common?
Binge eating has been reported to be the most common eating disorder that is under-reported and almost 2% of people are affected by it globally (2).
Based on gender, about 3.5% of women are affected by binge eating disorder which commonly starts at early adulthood (18-29) years.
On the other hand, it is more common in men at midlife (45-59) and it affects about 2% of adult men. With 1.6% of teenagers being affected (1).
However, it should be noted that a lot of people could sometimes experience binge eating or lose control over their appetite.
If this does not occur regularly, then there is no need to worry that it might be binge eating disorder.
What Can Cause Your Binge Eating Disorder?
Quite many factors have been associated with eating disorders but not much is known for binge eating. (4).
Here are some of the risk factors associated with binge eating.
The expectation of the society and Social Media Influence.
A case-control study that was a community- based showed that constant exposure to negative remarks about your weight, shape, and eating could predispose you to binge eating.
The study also states that risk factors for psychiatric disorders and obesity also exposes you to binge eating disorder (4).
The social media focuses on being slim and lays more emphasis on the appearance and shape of the body presenting it as the source of happiness or satisfaction.
Consequently, young adults and teenagers are more likely to suffer this disorder, this could be because of the self-esteem and body shaming issues they are faced with at this stage of growth
Dieting to lose weight
Having a high obsession with dieting in an attempt to lose weight could result in binge eating. It has also been reported that about 30-40% of those considering weight loss treatments could be having symptoms of binge eating. However, you could be obese, overweight, or have a healthy weight and still experience this condition (5).
Age And Gender
Although the first signs of binge eating start in teenage ages or early teens, it can occur at just about any age (6). Also, binge eating is more common in women than men, with about 3.6% of women suffering from it compared to 2% men and the reason for this could be biological (1).
Having other eating or related disorders
When you have an eating disorder such as bulimia nervosa or anorexia, it predisposes you to develop binge eating disorder.
Similarly, a medical condition such as Prader-Willi syndrome is also a risk factor as this condition affects the part of the brain that controls appetite leading to overeating (6).
Genetics and Family History
Your genetic makeup can affect changes in your appetite thereby affecting your eating habits (6).
Additionally, it is believed by researchers that gut microbiota also plays a role in causing eating disorders though the researched was more concerned with anorexia (16).
Family history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, loss of a loved one, having family members that had bad eating habits and a history of depression or mood disorders can all predispose you to binge eating (5).
What Risks Does Binge Eating Pose To Your Health?
Binge eating like any eating disorder could harm your health when you suffer from it. Binge eating has a link to weight gain and obesity, chronic pain, heart diseases, diabetes, mental problems, and sleep problems, leading to a reduction in the quality of life (7).
How Do You Know That You Have Binge Eating Disorder?
Having binge eating disorders makes you eat a large and unhealthy quantity of food regularly. When you find yourself having 1episode of overeating per week and for 3 months without being able to control it, accompanied by a feeling of shame and not wanting anyone to know about it, you should seek help as you might just be bingeing.
However, there are symptoms associated with binge eating. the DSM -5 criteria of 2013 are used as diagnostic criteria (10).
How To Stop Binge Eating?
Having taken the time to explain what binge eating is, its risk factors and devastating health consequences, how about giving you helpful and applicable ways to stop binge eating?
Here are proven ways to effectively stop binge eating and live a healthy and satisfying life.
Avoid Excessive Dieting And Meal Skipping
Restricting yourself to only certain types of eating methods could cause you to binge as well as increase your chances of craving and ultimately overeating (2). Do not be too rigid with what you eat rather, eat healthily (3).
Including proteins such as legumes, meat and eggs will help reduce your calorie intake keep you feeling full. Proteins increase your levels of GLP-1 hormone which suppresses your appetite (2).
Most importantly, eat a healthy breakfast and never skip it. Skipping your meals will not help you to stop binge eating (14).
Have A Regular Meal Schedule
Skipping your meals will only increase your cravings which will, in turn, increase your risk of overeating. Have a particular meal time and stick to it, it is your best bet to stop binging. Planning your meal will prove very valuable in this case. Plan it by setting aside 1-2 hours in a week to do that (3).
Research has shown that eating a large chunk of a meal can increase your blood glucose level and stimulate your hunger causing hormone.
Eating small and frequent meals at daytime helps keep your blood glucose levels stable as well as help you avoid being excessively hungry (3).
Therefore, to avoid this, it is safer for you to eat smaller meals at an increased frequency and at a regular schedule to help stop binging.
Clear Your Home of The Binge Foods
When you have most of the foods you binge on at your disposal, it makes it difficult for you to stop binging. A study using 154 female undergraduate students in Palestine showed that there is an association between binge eating and eating between meals and snacks (10).
To avoid this, clear your home of all junks and stock your kitchen with healthier alternatives as it will help you stop binge eating with unhealthy options. Healthier alternatives include proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds among others. It is helpful when you define clear rules for yourself and confidently stick to them (9).
It has been advised that drinking about 64 ounces of water a day can help you stop binging as it is easier to confuse thirst with hunger and most binge foods contain sodium and plenty of sugar which can be dehydrating (11).
However, this does not mean that you should drink water arbitrarily, instead, listen to your body and drink water when you feel thirsty to help keep you full rather than binging (2).
It Helps To Practice Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness helps you listen to your body and it brings your attention to the way you feel in the present moment. Mindfulness helps you realize that you are not hungry (2). This helps you stop binging by improving your eating behaviors.
A study systematically reviewed about 14 studies and found out that mindfulness is a primary intervention that decreases binge eating (12). Also, it has been reported that mindfulness helps you control your heating habits thereby promoting weight loss and reducing binge eating (2), (13).
Introduce More Fiber Into Your Diet
Increasing your intake of fiber helps you cut cravings and reduces your appetite and food consumption because it moves slowly in your digestive tract. This keeps you full longer (2).
Vegetables are very high in fiber and are a good way of increasing your fiber intake. Filling half of your plate with vegetables is very beneficial to you (14). Besides, vegetables contain vitamins, antioxidants and vital nutrients for your general wellbeing.
Cultivate The Habit Of Exercising
Walking helps you stop binging because it helps hasten stomach emptying time which in turn relieves uncomfortable symptoms of overeating. Exercise improves your mood, reduces stress and binging episodes (14).
Regular exercise and a healthy diet helps protect your heart and decreases your risk of a heart disease. Other exercises that may help are swimming, running, and biking among many others.
Avoid Depriving Yourself Of Sleep
Sleep impacts your appetite and hunger levels apart from being linked to binge eating, sleeping eight hours per night is a good way of reducing your risk of binge eating (2).
Sleep disruption causes a change in your eating pattern which may lead to increased snacking, weight gain, and craving for sugary and fatty foods. (15).
Also, lack of sleep increases your appetite and affects ghrelin and leptin levels which are the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite (14).
Keep Track of what you eat
Keeping a food journal helps you track what you eat and how it affects your mood. It is a very effective cue to the foods that trigger your binge eating, helping you eat healthily and responsibly (2).
Keeping a food journal helps reduce episodes of binge eating and it will help you in losing weight in the short and long run.
You will find it even more helpful when you report to someone every day or for a few times a week, it will help reduce your binge eating (11).
Find A Support Group
It may not be easy to step out of your silence but it will do you more good when you identify the problem earlier and speak out for help (5). Also, calling a trusted family member when you have the urge to binge or calling the eating disorder helplines can be very helpful (2). Having a very good social support system is linked to a decrease in binge eating.
Seek Medical Care
There are many different medical therapies for binge eating disorder that can help get your binging under control, giving you back your life.
If after trying out all the options above and you seem not to have relieved, it is best to seek treatment.
Treatment could be cognitive-behavioral, which seeks to modify your behavior by finding out the connection between your feelings, thoughts and eating patterns (2).
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is considered the best treatment for binge eating. Antidepressants, anti-epileptics and some stimulants are being used for short term control although there use for long term control is yet to be ascertained. Other treatment options are interpersonal psychotherapy, dialectical- behavioral therapy, and behavioral weight loss therapy.
Finally, it is important to know that bingeing is a very common eating disorder that if left untreated can result in low self-esteem and can negatively impact your mental health. But not to worry, modifying your diet and lifestyle can help improve your outlook by reducing your binge eating.