Binge-eating is not entirely unusual – we’ve all been guilty of it, especially during the festive season! In fact, the practice of over-indulging in food is becoming increasingly common, with research suggesting that the number of Australians who binge eat at least weekly has doubled (if not more!) since the late 1990s. While we all intuitively understand that eating to excess is not the healthiest practice, there is a general assumption in our culture and society that people who binge on food must enjoy eating that food so much that they simply cannot stop themselves – it’s just so tasty! We might laugh and flippantly comment that they are “out of control”, but this is a far more accurate statement than it first sounds. This post aims to educate people in understanding the impacts of binge eating disorder and how it is about more than overeating.
Binge-eating is about more than over indulgence
It probably wouldn’t occur to the average person that binge-eaters may not be experiencing any pleasure or enjoyment at all. Nor would it likely enter the average person’s mind that the binge-eater may be suffering from a mental health condition and require help. Understanding the impacts of binge eating disorder is important to recognise it as a mental health issue, as people do with other eating disorders. When we think about an eating disorder, our mind is likely to recall a very thin, sickly looking young woman – the classic ‘anorexic’ stereotype. In actuality, there is another eating disorder that is even more common in the Australian population: Binge Eating Disorder (BED). For individuals with BED, the lack of control they experience can be incredibly distressing and is often accompanied by other negative emotions such as shame, guilt, frustration, and self-loathing. Unlike other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, which tend to affect more females than males, BED affects both males and females equally.
Binge-eating disorder characteristics
A very real mental health condition, binge eating disorder (BED) is characterised by recurrent binge-eating episodes – i.e., consuming excessive quantities of food in a short period of time. These episodes are characterised by sense of lack of control over food intake and are associated with other behaviours such as:
- Eating much faster than usual
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating to excess when not experiencing physical hunger
- Eating alone due to embarrassment about food intake quantity, and
- Feelings of guilt, depression, or shame.
An individual experiencing these binge-eating episodes and related symptoms on a weekly basis for three months or more would be classed as having BED. In Australia, individuals with BED make up almost half (47%) of the total population of individuals suffering from an eating disorder.
BED is not the same as overeating. The key difference is that BED is recurrent, more severe, and, as previously mentioned, accompanied by negative emotions such as guilt and disgust towards the self. In contrast to bulimia, binge-eating in BED is not followed by compensatory behaviours such as purging. While individuals who suffer with BED can vary in physical size, it is also commonly linked to health conditions such as obesity and type II diabetes.
Impacts of BED on mental health
The secretive eating behaviours, shame, guilt and loss of control can impact the individual’s mental health – and research has found psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression to be commonly associated with BED. While less life-threatening compared to disorders such as anorexia, BED is a serious condition that is important to address. Unfortunately, partially as a result of their feelings of shame, individuals suffering with BED are less likely to seek help for their problem and given the presence of the disorder is not obviously visible, it is difficult for others to recognise.
To find out more about support for eating disorders, click here Support for Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues | Butterfly Foundation.
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