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Fact Sheet

Binge eating

What is binge eating?

Most people overeat every now and then, and it’s common to occasionally feel as though you’ve eaten too much. However, when you’re not feeling hungry and regularly consume large amounts of food to the point of feeling bloated, at a much faster rate, than usually this is known as binge eating. Binge eating is similar to bulimia except that the person does not get rid of the food after eating.

Some of the characteristics of binge eating include:

  • Feeling that your eating is out of control
  • Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable
  • Eating large amounts of food, and/ or even when you are not really hungry
  • Being secretive about what is eaten and when
  • Being embarrassed by the amount of food eaten
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty about overeating

If you think one or a number of these characteristics describe your eating habits, you may want to speak to a doctor, a nutritionist, dietitian, psychologist, counselor, or other mental health professional.

Causes of binge eating

There’s no one causes for binge eating. A number of different factors are thought to contribute to the problem. These include physiological factors (such as our brain chemistry), social and cultural factors (including the thin body ideal), and emotions (such as anger, boredom, depression and feeling worried or stressed), and dieting. People often overeat as a way to make themselves feel better or to distract themselves from their problems. You can read more about this interaction between feelings and eating in the Comfort eating fact sheet.

It’s also possible that dieting may aggravate binge eating. Part of dieting involves setting rules about what to eat and when to eat. If those rules are occasionally broken, for example, by eating a food you’re not allowed to eat or eating more than you should, some people think that their diet is ruined. As a consequence, they binge eat and plan to start their diet again the next day.

Effects of binge eating

There are a number of physical and emotional effects of binge eating, includes:

  • Not getting enough vitamins and other nutrients. Foods that are often eaten during a binge are high in fat and sugar and low in important nutrients. This may lead to other health difficulties
  • Depression may occur because binging often increases feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness

It is not uncommon for people who have a problem with binge eating to be overweight or obese, although it is also possible for people to be within their healthy weight range.

Obesity contributes to the onset of certain chronic health problems, such as diabetes, gall bladder disease, heart disease, cancer, and bone and joint problems.

Suggestions for getting help

The reasons for binge eating are complicated and it may be difficult to manage your binge eating on your own. Managing your eating habits may also include speaking to a professional. It may also be helpful for you to talk with a medical doctor, dietitian, nutritionist or mental health professional.  They should be able to help you work out the best way to manage your binge eating. By talking with a professional about your binge eating, you can find number of options to best manage this.

Overcoming this problem also involves you.There are many things you can do to help yourself get your binge eating under control. Some suggestions include:

Eating regularly: It may be helpful to eat small meals regularly so that you are giving your body enough nutrients throughout the day.

Avoid skipping meals: If you can, try to avoid missing meals. Skipping a meal may make you hungry later on in the day which could result in binge eating.

Eating a balanced diet: If possible, avoid going on diets that suggest you leave out certain foods or only eat at certain times of the day. Having good eating habits can promote good health and reduce your risk for chronic diseases.

Have a distraction: Having something else you can do when you feel like binge eating may also be helpful. This may be going for a walk, hanging out with friends, reading or listening to music.

Exercise: Doing a little bit of exercise each day may be helpful. You may want to check out the Benefits of activity and exercise fact sheet. If you haven’t exercised before, it may be a good idea to talk with your medical doctor about the type of exercise that would be suitable for you.

More Information

To read more about binge eating check out the US Department of Health and Human Services Weight Control Information Network and information from the Mayo Clinic.

For more information on health eating habits check out the nutrition website provided by the US Department of Agriculture.

Last edited by Kristie - Feb 2014.

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