Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people experience a loss of control around food and eat large quantities of food on a regular basis. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, sexuality or background. People with binge eating disorder eat large quantities of food, over a short period of time (called bingeing).
BED is not about choosing to eat extra-large portions, nor are people who suffer from it just “overindulging” – far from being enjoyable, binges are very distressing.
Sufferers find it difficult to stop during a binge even if they want to, and some people with binge eating disorder have described feeling disconnected from themselves and what they’re doing during a binge, or even struggling to remember what they’ve eaten afterwards. Binges may be planned like a ritual and can involve the person buying “special” binge foods, or they may be more spontaneous. People may go to extreme lengths to access food – for example, eating discarded food or stealing food.
Many things may trigger a binge eating episode, but commonly they occur when a person is feeling uncomfortable or negative emotions, such as sadness, anger or loneliness.
Binge eating usually takes place in private, though the person may eat regular meals outside their binges. People with binge eating disorder may also restrict their diet or put in certain dietary rules around food – this can also result in them binge eating due to hunger and feelings of deprivation.
People often have feelings of guilt and disgust at their lack of control during and after binge eating, which can reinforce that cycle of negative emotions, restriction and binge eating again. Unlike those with bulimia, people with binge eating disorder do not regularly use purging methods after a binge. Binge eating episodes are associated with eating much more rapidly than normal, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry, eating alone through embarrassment at the amount being eaten, and feelings of disgust, shame or guilt during or after the binge.
If someone is developing a binge eating disorder, often changes in behaviour are noticeable before changes to physical appearance. Signs include:
▪ Buying lots of food
▪ Organising life around bingeing episodes
▪ Hoarding food
▪ Eating very rapidly
▪ Eating when not hungry
▪ Eating until uncomfortably full
▪ Avoiding eating around others
▪ Social withdrawal and isolation
▪ Mood swings
▪ Compromise of education and employment plans
Binge eating disorder is a mental illness, and you might notice changes in the way you or someone you know feels before physical symptoms become obvious.
Psychological signs include:
▪ Spending a lot or most of their time thinking about food
▪ A sense of being out of control around food, or a loss of control over
▪ Feeling anxious and tense, especially over eating in front of others
▪ Low confidence and self-esteem
▪ Feelings of shame and guilt after bingeing
▪ Other mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety
There are several physical consequences associated with binge eating
▪ Difficulty sleeping
▪ Weight gain
▪ Stomach pain
▪ Other stomach problems
▪ Poor skin condition
Long term effects of binge eating disorder Like any eating disorder, binge eating disorder can
have long-term physical effects, some of which may be permanent.
▪ High blood pressure
▪ High cholesterol
▪ Heart disease
▪ Type 2 diabetes
▪ Difficulty conceiving and infertility
▪ Joint and back pain
▪ Damage to the oesophagus and stomach
▪ Gall bladder disease
▪ Sleep apnoea
Most seriously, binge eating disorder may be fatal if not treated in time.
However, many of the effects of binge eating disorder are reversible or can be prevented from worsening, and eating disorders are treatable, with full
What’s it like to have a Binge Eating Disorder?
‘I spent all my time thinking about food. I even woke up at night thinking about it.’ ‘Sometimes I just feel that I’ve lost all control that nothing in the world can feel as bad as I do after a binge, then I just start worrying about my weight. It never goes away’ ‘It was in my late twenties and early thirties that I started to feel my weight was getting a little out of hand. I was constantly in a state of flux with my weight going up and down with periods of control and high self-esteem. This was punctuated by bouts of blue moods and self-loathing, mainly for
allowing my weight to creep up.
It wasn’t until my late thirties that I’d had enough of the constant battle I had with my weight, body image, and how I thought of myself. I made a decision one day after a binge that I’d had enough. And so my road to recovery began. It was a long road and it was this journey that made me finally believe that things can change and that my life will not be dictated to me by my eating disorder.
There have been plenty of ups and downs, all following patterns of stresses in my life, I might have times when I want to go back to the old me and I might still do it, but I am aware of how and why I am doing it and I can fight with a healthier mental attitude and no more self-punishment.’