Mental Health and Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder, also known as compulsive overeating, is a newly recognized eating disorder. Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders in which emotions and thinking patterns cause a person to adopt harmful eating habits, such as overeating or starving. Often, these habits are a way of coping with depression, stress, or anxiety.
Binge eating disorder is a serious condition characterized by uncontrollable eating and resulting weight gain. People with binge eating disorder frequently eat large amounts of food (beyond the point of feeling full) while feeling a loss of control over their eating. Although the binging behavior is similar to what occurs in bulimia nervosa, people with binge eating disorder usually do not engage in purging by vomiting or using laxatives.
Many people who have binge eating disorder use food as a way to cope with uncomfortable feelings and emotions. These are people who may have never learned how to deal effectively with stress, and find it comforting and soothing to eat food. Unfortunately, they often end up feeling sad and guilty about not being able to control their eating, which increases the stress and fuels the cycle.
What Are the Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder?
Most people overeat from time to time, and many people say they frequently eat more than they should. Eating large amounts of food, however, does not mean that a person has binge eating disorder. Most people with serious binge eating problems have some of the following symptoms:
- Frequent episodes of eating what others would consider an abnormally large amount of food
- Frequent feelings of being unable to control what or how much is being eaten
- Eating much more rapidly than usual
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food, even when not physically hungry
- Eating alone out of embarrassment at the quantity of food being eaten
- Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after overeating
- Fluctuations in weight
- Feelings of low self-esteem
- Loss of sexual desire
- Frequent dieting
What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?
The exact cause of binge eating disorder is still unknown, and researchers are just beginning to understand the consequences of the disorder and the factors affecting its development. Like other eating disorders, binge eating disorder seems to result from a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors.
Binge eating disorder has been linked to other mental health disorders. Nearly half of all people with binge eating disorder have a history of depression, although the exact nature of the link is unclear. Many people report that anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety, or other negative emotions can trigger an episode of binge eating. Impulsive behavior and certain other psychological problems also seem to be more common in people with binge eating disorder.
Eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, tend to run in families, suggesting that a susceptibility to eating disorders might be inherited. Researchers also are looking into how brain chemicals and metabolism (the way the body burns calories) affect the development of binge eating disorder.
People with binge eating disorder often come from families that overeat or put an unnatural emphasis on food; for example, using it as a reward or as a way to soothe or comfort.