Even if we’re on a diet plan, we’re all guilty of overeating from time to time, especially when it comes to those special occasions – family get-togethers, dining out or attending special events. You know what I’m talking about – that bloated, uncomfortable feeling in the stomach, sometimes resulting in stomach-ache, after a huge meal.

Lots of us do it once in a while. But occasionally overeating is not Binge Eating Disorder. The National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders (ANAD) describe this disorder as: “Characterized by insatiable cravings that can occur any time of the day or night, usually secretive, and filled with shame.”

According to the UK National Health Service (NHS) they define this affliction as “Binge eating is an eating disorder where a person feels compelled to overeat on a regular basis through regular binges”. The general rule of thumb is given as at least once a week over a prolonged period of 3 months or longer.

So What Causes Binge Eating?

Experts are not clear on the exact causes of eating disorders generally, and this includes binge eating. But it’s generally accepted that it has lot to do with mental health. Emotional and mental health factors certainly play a part, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety or stress. A person’s genes, psychology and background can also play a major role.

Other causes can be feelings of low self-esteem or body-image, or feelings of anger, boredom or loneliness. This type of eating has also been known to develop following a strict diet. If the person’s diet included missing meals, or skipping certain food groups, this could trigger binge eating disorder.

It’s not Bulimia

Although they may share the same symptoms, binge eating and bulimia are different. With bulimia, people binge eat but then attempt to purge (flush out) the food they have consumed afterwards. This is either done by vomiting, using diuretics or laxatives. Binge eaters do not purge the food they eat.

Who’s at Risk?

Binge Eating Disorder can affect anyone regardless of age, sex or weight. ANAD reports that binge eating is now the number one eating disorder amongst adults in the USA, affecting 3-5% of women (about 5 million) and 2 % of men (3 million). And unlike Anorexia or Bulimia, it is an ‘equal opportunities’ disorder, roughly affecting the same numbers of men and women.

What are the Risks?

Bing eating can be linked to psychological problems, such as feelings of distress, depression or anxiety. People suffering from this disorder feel that they cannot control what, or how much they eat – and the problem only gets compounded as this behaviour of consistent overeating continues.

The obvious physical effect of continuous overeating is weight gain – but it doesn’t end there. Obesity is a common after-effect, as it is reported that two-thirds of people suffering from binge eating are also obese. The knock effects of being overweight and obese are then of course the potential weight related issues of heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Can it be Treated?

Binge eating can be successfully treated. The first step is to get it diagnosed. This is usually done by a doctor or healthcare professional who asks appropriate questions about your emotional health, eating habits, how you think and feel about food and your body image.

To address the psychological aspects of the disorder, the next step could be a series of self-help or guided self-help programmes (self-help plus regular meeting with a professional) or even specialist group intervention. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can also be used to disrupt the negative thought patterns one may have that trigger binge eating. In some cases medication can also be prescribed.

To overcome the physical problems of weight gain or obesity, a safe, structured diet plan or weight loss program can be drawn up and followed.

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