Binge Eating Disorder Tips From Dietitians
Learn about the causes and effects of binge eating, as well as how you can overcome it, with our expert advice.
Binge eating disorder involves regular episodes whereby you consume overly large amounts of food – regardless of how hungry you are. These episodes can cause harmful physical and mental effects, ranging from immense guilt to weight gain and stomach pain.
Thankfully, several tactics can be adopted to reduce and even eliminate binge eating episodes. But first, it’s important to understand what this disorder involves, its causes and effects. Below, we explain the basics of bingeing so that you can learn how to tackle this unhealthy eating behaviour.
What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is characterised by uncontrolled food consumption, often fuelled by the need to relieve or escape negative feelings. However, intense guilt, distress and shame usually follow these episodes of excessive eating.
Characteristics of binge eating
- Eating high-calorie comfort food
- Eating faster than usual
- Eating in the absence of physical hunger
- Feeling shame or guilt afterwards
- Feeling like you have to hide your eating behaviour
Why do you binge eat?
Being able to identify the causes behind your episodes is an integral step to overcoming this detrimental behavior. By addressing the root issue, you can in turn discourage this drive to eat excessive amounts of food. The three key contributing factors to binge eating are meal restrictions, mood fluctuations and weight overvaluation.
Restriction and binge eating
Diet rules such as cutting out entire food groups or limiting calorie intake can often have the opposite outcome to the desired effect. When you impose strict rules that limit the amount and nature of food you’re ‘allowed’ to have, it is often challenging to sustain this dietary regime in the long term. And when you finally give in to temptation, it’s normal to feel as though you may as well indulge while you’re at it.
After this episode of binge eating, however, you’ll likely feel upset at yourself for losing control. In reaction, you may enter into another period of restrictive eating and the cycle starts all over again.
Negative emotions can also influence your decision to binge eat, with food often seeming like an instant way to escape or deal with unpleasant feelings such as stress and sadness. For instance, if you are experiencing powerful emotions, you may turn to a comforting meal as a coping mechanism in the moment.
Remember that consuming high-calorie, unhealthy food only serves as a temporary distraction, and can even lead to even more intense feelings of guilt and shame once the initial pleasure wears off.
With today’s society placing so much value on outward appearance, many people have unfortunately been taught to believe that self-worth is rooted in body shape and weight. In support, research has shown that almost one quarter of Australian women report weight and shape overvaluation.
While others may evaluate themselves on a range of life domains such as their careers, relationships and hobbies, you may appraise your self-worth mainly on how many kilos you weigh, what your body looks like in the mirror and how much control you have over changing it.
This overvaluation can promote obsessive and extreme dietary behaviours, including binge eating.
Physical and psychological effects of binge eating
Negative emotions after binge eating
Food consumption elicits dopamine release, a chemical linked to positive feelings of reward and joy. What’s more, high-fat, sugar-heavy meals trigger greater amounts of this hormone.
That’s why, initially, you may feel pleasure when you overeat. However, once this dopamine rush subsides, you’ll often feel too full, as well as a significant sense of shame or guilt – negative emotions that can encourage you to turn to food again for comfort.
Stomach pain after binge eating
Eating too much food in one sitting can cause acid reflux, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea and stomach pain. That’s because your system is flooded with a surge of sugar, fat and calories that trigger fluctuating hormone and energy levels, fat storage, inflammation and digestive upset.
In the long term, repeated bingeing can lead to serious physical consequences, including gastric dilation and perforation. In other words, your stomach can be filled to the point of rupture – a significant risk to those who have had bariatric surgery and now have a restricted stomach size.
High blood pressure
Another physical effect of binge eating is that your pancreas releases more insulin than usual. Over time, this can promote insulin resistance, which may be detrimental to your metabolism. Essentially, your cells fail to absorb a sufficient level of nutrients, which in turn can subject you to a range of health conditions such as high blood pressure and obesity.
Weight gain is another common consequence of binge eating, with 25-30% of individuals seeking treatment for obesity meeting the criteria for BED. The excessive amount of calories, sugar, fat and carbs puts your body into overdrive, requiring a significant level of energy for digestion. As a result, you are often left feeling tired and sluggish, consuming large meals without exercising to burn off their calories.
Unfortunately, overweight individuals can face a higher risk of developing a range of chronic health issues, including:
- Sleep apnea
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Tips to prevent binge eating
The good news is that there are several strategies you can take to prevent binge eating episodes and overcome this disorder. Discover some tactics below.
Record your eating habits
Keeping a food diary will help to identify triggers and trends relating to your binge eating episodes. Understanding precisely what’s happening before, during, and following an episode is a key step to overcoming this behaviour. Without proper recording, it’s hard to recognise and recall exact details to focus on.
Jot down what, why and where you eat, as well as how it makes you feel. This will help you to become aware of certain patterns in your behaviour and where you should concentrate your efforts to adopt healthier eating habits.
Eat regular, properly-portioned meals
Instead of skipping meals in an attempt to lose weight, make sure you eat three portioned meals and a few healthy snacks per day. Dining on a regular schedule will enable you to take better control over your food consumption by minimising the intense cravings that come with restricted eating. What’s more, you’ll enjoy sustained energy levels all day long!
A good way to stabilise your eating schedule is to plan and meal prep in advance. Every night, try noting down when you’ll be eating the following day. While you may wish to follow your body’s physical cues, such signals can be disturbed by regular binge eating, so you may find it challenging to discern between hunger and fullness.
Don’t forbid foods
You might be tempted to eliminate entire food groups from your diet because they trigger binge eating episodes or cause feelings of anxiety and distress due to their effect on your body. However, by gradually reintroducing these foods in moderation, you may actually learn to reduce the anxiety they provoke and their ability to elicit an episode.
Start by listing all of your forbidden foods, ordering them from most to least forbidden. Then gradually reintroduce the list of foods into your diet starting from the bottom of this list.
While this process will take time, you may eventually be able to enjoy a more comprehensive, balanced diet without firm restrictions.
Find other ways to cope with challenging times
As discussed above, binge eating often occurs after an all-or-nothing response to breaking a diet rule or as a means to cope with negative emotions. By handling challenging moments in a healthy manner, you may be able to ward off these episodes.
First, participate in an activity that you genuinely enjoy on a regular basis. Whether it’s joining a yoga class, taking up art lessons or going for nature walks, you can use this passtime to not only enrich your daily life, but also as a mental release when faced with tough times.
Overcome binge eating support from a registered dietitian
BED is a psychological disorder experienced by millions of individuals across the globe. Yet with the correct treatment plan and appropriate lifestyle changes, it is possible to overcome.
Although the strategies outlined above can certainly help you to adopt healthier eating behaviours, sometimes you need to seek the support of a professional dietitian. This may be particularly important if you have been diagnosed with BED and recently undergone bariatric surgery. With reduced stomach capacity, you’ll need to ensure you can maintain safe eating habits.
Our dedicated dietitians offer 24/7 assistance, tailored support groups and monthly progress reviews. To book an appointment with Obesity Surgery Centre, please complete our online contact form or call our team on 02 4058 3936.