Binge eating is when a person eats a large amount of food quickly in one sitting, often eating past the point of feeling full. When binge eating is related to an underlying condition, such as an eating disorder, the act of eating may feel uncontrollable, and it may be done secretively, away from other people. It may also come with feelings of guilt, embarrassment, shame, anxiety, or depression. Binge eating can be a risk factor for serious health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, anxiety, and depression, when there are other risk factors present. (1)
Occasional binge eating does not mean the individual has an eating disorder, however. Many people eat past the point of being full once in a while, especially during holidays or on special occasions. People whose binge eating is not related to an eating disorder feel in control of their eating behaviors, don’t hide their eating habits, and usually don’t experience long-term physical or mental health complications.
Binge eating may result in short-term effects, such as bloating, stomach cramps, indigestion, constipation, or fatigue, whether done often or on occasion. However, if someone is binge eating at least once a week for at least three months at a time, it can affect the body mentally and physically.
Eating a lot of food in a short period can have many physical effects on the body if done frequently enough over a long period of time. A few common conditions may include:
Recurring binge eating can also affect mental health. Many people who struggle with binge eating experience signs of depression,anxiety, and stress. Sometimes, a person feels shame when eating a certain amount of food. They may feel uncomfortable with how their body feels or looks, and those feelings about themselves may become a cycle, leading to depression or anxiety. (3)
Individuals who binge eat more than once a week may also feel fatigued or lack energy, making it difficult to complete daily tasks. But this also may be due to other factors, such as depressed mood, lack of physical activity, and insufficient sleep.
While these physical and mental effects may accompany–or correlate with–binge eating disorder, that doesn’t mean binge eating disorder causes these conditions. BED is a very complex mental health disorder with many biological, psychological, and social risk factors. (5) And more research needs to be done to pinpoint the relationship between binge eating disorder and its risk factors. (1,5)
For example, a person may have started binging in childhood as a coping mechanism due to trauma experienced. Binge eating disorder may be a complication associated with a co-occurring psychiatric condition. Binging also often occurs with chronic dieting, as a result of restricting food intake.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is usually characterized by binge eating once a week or more over a period of at least three months, eating to the point of being uncomfortably full, feeling out of control during a binge, eating when not hungry or in secret, and feeling shame, guilt, distress or embarrassment after a binge. (4)
Someone with binge eating disorder may also hoard food, prefer to eat alone, restrict their food intake by either fasting or trying fad diets. They may also show concern about their weight or body image and/or have low self-esteem.
Seeking help for an eating disorder takes courage. But recovery from binge eating disorder is possible, and the team at Within Health is available to help. If you suspect you or someone you love may have binge eating disorder, Contact the Within Health admissions team to start the healing journey.