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What is Binge Eating?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Partington
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2018
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Binge eating is characterized by overeating in a certain period of time. Often, the binge eater will eat very quickly or past the point of being satiated and to the point that he or she feels physically uncomfortable. Depression or guilt after binge eating may follow. Some experts say that the eating period must last a couple hours to be considered a binge, but this is disputed. While many people display one or more of these behaviors occasionally during their lives, binge eating may rise to the level of a serious eating disorder when it occurs frequently and cannot be controlled.

Probably the most common eating disorder that binging is associated with is bulimia, or more formally, bulimia nervosa. Bulemics not only binge eat, but they also purge. That is, they force out the food they just ate by vomiting, or using diuretics or laxatives. Additionally, bulemics may fast or exercise excessively. A person with bulimia might also attempt to control their food intake by dieting, but doing so can cause even more binges.

Binge eating is also sometimes referred to as its own disorder — binge-eating disorder. While not yet officially classified as a mental disorder, some mental health professionals use it as a diagnostic category and distinguish it from bulimia by the absence of purging after binging.

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Regardless of their diagnosis, a person who binges will often obsess about food and about keeping others from knowing how much they eat. He or she may also obsess about his or her weight and physical appearance. Binge eating is very unhealthy and can lead to a wide variety of serious health complications. Anyone who suspects a loved one might be binge eating should immediately consult a doctor or mental health professional.

Binge eating can be treated with the help of a mental health professional. A mental health professional can help the binge eater address the underlying problem behaviors and beliefs and replace them with more appropriate and healthy ones. Medications may be prescribed in conjunction with therapy to help the person achieve healthy weight control, proper nutrition, and a healthy amount of exercise. Self-help books and support groups focused on binge eating can often be useful tools to supplement professional help.

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Discuss this Article

Fa5t3r
Post 3

@Mor - Mental illness tends to have a stigma attached to it as well, and I actually think that people would prefer to think they are just weak or greedy then that they might have a deeper problem. But the only way toward binge eating recovery is to admit that it's not just a matter of control or willpower.

Mor
Post 2

@pastanaga - That's true to a point. But humanity has had the ability to delay gratification for a while and that theory about eating only really applies when an animal eats until they are full. With binge eating, it's a compulsive behavior where people will eat past the point where they feel full.

Unfortunately, I think food is so tied up with ideas of being good and bad in our society that it's hard for people to realize that this can be the symptom of a mental illness rather than just a sign of weakness or overindulgence.

pastanaga
Post 1

I think it's the guilt that is the defining factor really. I mean, eating huge amounts of food when it is available is actually a healthy reaction to abundant food. If we were all living in the wild, we'd take every chance possible to eat huge amounts of food because it wouldn't happen that often.

I don't mean that people should overeat all the time, but I don't think it's something that they should feel so terribly about. It's just a natural reaction. And feeling bad just makes them want to do it again to make themselves feel better.

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