When we are dealing with hardship in life, we try to regain emotional balance with food, even when there is no feeling of hunger. So food can become our ally. When overeating, food becomes dangerous for our body and for our emotional wellbeing.
Overeating can also cause insomnia or may underlie the development of depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. People suffering from this eating disorder frequently eat large quantities of food, sometimes up to 15,000 calories in one meal. They usually eat when no one is around and are forced to hide or store food. People who overeat do not induce vomiting after meals (those who do, suffer from another disorder called bulimia) and are often overweight or obese.
The causes of overeating vary from individual to individual and sometimes may remain unknown. Excessive eating is often the result of abnormalities in brain activity. Depression, extreme diet and stress can cause abnormalities. Overeating could be genetic – it can be inherited from parents.
Eating disorders that consist of binge eating are unpredictable and can affect anyone. The following factors indicate a high risk:
- being a woman (the risk of developing an eating disorder is higher in women)
- being an adolescent
- medical history of eating disorders in the family
- history of depression, alcoholism or drug abuse or impulsive behaviour
- past attempts to diet, in a frequent and extreme manner
Symptoms of overeating
People who overeat are difficult to identify by appearance. Overeating doesn’t necessarily lead to being overweight or obese, some may maintain normal body weight. In particular, the following symptoms may occur:
- eat large amounts of food even when you have no appetite
- eat in a hurry
- feeling bad after eating
- eating alone
- feelings of depression and lack of self-control
- feeling ashamed to eat in front of others
- keep diets frequently without long-term weight loss
The disorder associates periods of food restriction with periods of overeating. Sometimes, episodes of binge eating are not accompanied by food breaks. Up to 33% of those who are obese have binge eating disorder. Significant weight gain occurs as a result of this chronic overeating, even if they are accompanied by intermittent periods of a restrictive diet.
Risk factors for overeating disorder
It occurs in late adolescence or early adulthood and is more common in women than in men. It can affect up to 2% of women. The disorder can be triggered by excessive eating, anxiety or any stressful situation, symptoms that diminish when eating. The risk is increased in people:
- with overweight or obese parents;
- with a tendency to perfectionism and dissatisfaction with one’s image;
- belonging to a culture that appreciates slim bodies.
Complications of binge eating disorder
If left untreated, this disorder can lead to obesity and other medical problems such as heart disease or diabetes. Overeating can cause both physical and mental health complications if left untreated. For those who are overweight and obese, potential complications include asthma, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension.
Also, overeating can affect the emotional health of the patient. People with this eating disorder may experience anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. These issues, however, can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life.
When to see a doctor?
If you suspect that you are suffering from binge eating disorder, a therapist may examine you for health problems caused by overeating. You may be diagnosed with an eating disorder if you are dealing with:
- consecutive episodes of overeating
- at least three of the following: eating fast, eating to the brim, eating large portions in the absence of hunger, eating alone, feel guilty after eating
- worry about overeating
- overeating at least twice a week for more than six months
- overeating without inducing vomiting (in this case, with induced vomiting, the diagnosis is bulimia).
The treatment of overeating
Most patients who suffer from binge eating disorder do not seek medical treatment. Some of them opt for special weight loss programs but do not treat the cause of overeating. Denial, as well as hiding the disease is common, and the disease usually begins before it is noticed by others.
If you have started eating excessively and this worries you, it is important to take steps to prevent this problem from really turning into a disorder. Consider the following advice:
- Surround yourself with people with a healthy body image
- Avoid images that make you feel ashamed or insecure about your own body.
- Talk to a specialist in eating disorders about your concerns regarding your body. On Guide to Rehab, you can find therapists in the UK that can help you avoid the occasional overeating.
Treatment includes professional counselling and sometimes medication. Often, treatment is needed for other disorders as well, such as depression or complications associated with obesity.
It is important to focus on healing the emotional triggers that can lead to binge eating, with appropriate guidance in establishing healthier coping mechanisms to deal with stress, depression, anxiety. Our web guide provides health professionals who specialize in the treatment of eating disorders, including psychiatrists, nutritionists and therapists. Contact a treatment provider and your life can change for the better.