It is normal to overeat from time to time.
Perhaps you order the pecan sundae when you’re already full from the restaurant’s main course. You empty a bag of chocolates from the clearance Valentine’s aisle, or celebrate your daughter’s birthday with party treats and snacks galore. You eat a box of Girl Scout cookies in one sitting because you just “can’t leave them alone.”
Given this occasional overeating, you might assume you know what compulsive overeating feels like. Overly full? Stuffed. Your pants are tight, and for a moment you wish you hadn’t taken that last bite. Your next meal or snack may be lighter.
But compulsive overeating is more than eating too much.
Binge eating disorder is just as serious, just as real, and just as dangerous as anorexia and bulimia. Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States. About 3.5% of women and 2% of men have it. The disorder can occur in anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or other demographic categorization.
This is an important point to highlight because while many people have some knowledge of anorexia and bulimia, they often pause when we talk about binge eating disorder (BED). The conversation that follows can highlight common misconceptions about binge eating disorder, which may also shine a light on why sometimes people don’t think it’s a big deal. “Oh, I must have that. I binge eat when I get stressed out during [insert occasional situation here].” “When I watch TV I zone out and eat.” “Every holiday I end up overeating.” But there is a difference. Let’s talk about what binge eating disorder is and is not, how it’s caused, and why it’s important to get treated.
Individuals who struggle with compulsive overeating typically eat excessive amounts of food—but not because they are hungry. These individuals eat to feel better, to cope with negative emotions. However, upon eating, the opposite happens. They feel a loss of control, shame, guilt, and as if they lack willpower. From there, the cycle of overeating begins again.
Compulsive overeating is a description of an eating disorder behavior, but it is not a diagnosis in itself. Typically, individuals who engage in compulsive overeating are diagnosed with bulimia if they engage in purging or binge eating disorder if no purging behaviors are present.
Binge eating disorder is a serious eating disorder that unfortunately may be overlooked by medical providers due to stereotypes and/or a lack of information about the illness. Understanding the complexities of binge eating disorder may provide insights into why binge eating often goes unnoticed in a medical setting and what individuals can do about it.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by repetitive and uncontrolled episodes of excessive food consumption. Bingeing often leaves individuals feeling shame, guilt, or disgust. However, in contrast to bulimia, those with binge eating do not engage in compensatory measures, such as purging, following binges. Binge eating is often followed by dieting attempts that typically turn into a pattern of yo-yo dieting. In addition to causing negative emotions, frequent bingeing can also have consequences for physical health.
Binge eating disorder can affect anyone, regardless of appearance. While the illness is most common in individuals who are overweight, binge eating disorder can be diagnosed at any weight. In addition to affecting any individual, binge eating is the most common eating disorder.
Do you find yourself struggling with binge eating episodes? Are you eating extreme amounts of food and experiencing guilt or shame afterward? Do you find yourself stuck in a cycle of binge eating and yo-yo dieting? If so, you may have binge eating disorder—a real and serious eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder starts when individuals repeatedly and uncontrollably consume excessive amounts of food. Binge eating may be driven by a need to soothe negative emotions, anxiety, stress, or depression. However, the feeling of comfort that eating may bring does not last long and individuals may experience shame, guilt, and distress following bingeing episodes. These post-binge feelings may lead the sufferer to swing to the other extreme end and engage in restrictive dieting. This cycle of binge eating followed by extreme dieting is a type of “yo-yo dieting” and can become a long-lasting cycle with negative effects.
Most of us have had the experience of having a strong craving for something at one time or another. Some food item or beverage that sounds particularly good. A new study brings forward a possible reason why we sometimes overconsume that food or beverage.
In a study conducted in Cologne, Germany (1), researchers used PET scan technology to see the areas of the brain that were activated by dopamine release, a brain chemical associated with pleasure, reward, and satisfaction. The study subjects were given either a milkshake or a tasteless beverage, and then the PET scan tracked dopamine release once when the beverage was first tasted and then again when it reached the stomach.
In an interesting and somewhat counterintuitive finding, the researchers found that the higher the desire for the milkshake, the lower the release of dopamine from the stomach.
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