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What is Binge Eating, and How Does it Affect the Body?

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What is Binge Eating, and How Does it Affect the Body?

What is Binge Eating?

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.

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How Does Binge Eating Affect the Body?

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. 

Long-Term Physical Effects

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:

  • Weight gain: If someone consumes more food than their body uses for energy throughout the day, it can cause weight gain. 
  • Heart disease: here is also an increased risk of heart disease. Heart disease is a general term referring to various conditions that affect the heart’s ability to function correctly. Many people don’t experience symptoms of heart disease, but it can lead to heart attack and heart failure. (2)
  • Type 2 diabetes: Binge eating may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. (1) Diabetes is a life-long condition that affects how the body produces and uses insulin. Signs and symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, hunger and urination, fatigue, blurred vision, numbness in the hands or feet, and slow-healing sores. 

Long-Term Mental Effects

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.

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Binge Eating and Eating Disorders

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.

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Frequently asked questions

Resources

  1. Sheehan, D.V., Herman, B.K. (2015). The Psychological and Medical Factors Associated with Untreated Binge Eating Disorder. Primary Care Companion CNS Disorders. 17(2). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4560195/.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, September 27). About heart disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/about.htm
  3. Ansell, E. B., Grilo, C. M., & White, M. A. (2011). Examining the interpersonal model of binge eating and loss of control over eating in women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45(1), 43–50. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.20897
  4. Binge eating disorder. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 22). Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/bed
  5. Badrasawi, M.M., Zidan, S.J. Binge eating symptoms prevalence and relationship with psychosocial factors among female undergraduate students at Palestine Polytechnic University: a cross-sectional study. J Eat Disord 7, 33 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-019-0263-1
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