By Neha Parekh and Sakina Poonawala 25th April 2021
Overeating and binge eating are terms that are often used interchangeably yet the difference is distinct. About 1 in 2 individuals trying to control their weight say that they have binged in the last months. 6% of individuals in the adult community as a whole describe themselves as ‘compulsive eaters’ with 2% meeting the criteria for Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
For many people, overeating is a normal, common experience. This could mean having an extra helping meal times even when full or eating beyond the feeling of fullness (satiety) occasionally. Often, frequent overeating can lead to binge eating disorder. Binge eating is when an individual has recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time with instances manifested with feelings of ‘loss of control’.
While a person without this condition may occasionally overeat, a person who binge eats has repeated episodes of bingeing, which often results in emotional and physical distress. Feelings of disgust, shame and guilt are common experiences for someone who is binge eating. Those who overeat may experience some guilt, but not the high levels of mental anguish, anxiety or depression commonly seen among those with BED.
It is important to understand BED can affect anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity or background. No one knows what actually causes BED, but it may stem from genetics or family history, and its association with other psychological symptoms. For some people, dieting in unhealthy ways—such as skipping meals, not eating enough food, or avoiding certain kinds of food—may also contribute to binge eating. Strategies for binge eating disorder aim to reduce binge eating episodes by replacing them with positive eating behaviours and implementing a more balanced attitude to food. This is usually done by:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT involves talking to a therapist who will help you explore your patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that contribute to your eating disorder. They will work with you to help you explore what is triggering your binge eating and help you to manage your eating.
Specialist support: Professional support and treatment from health professionals specialising in the treatment of binge eating disorders, including Dietitians, Psychiatrists, and other therapists, can be the most effective way to address BED. A Dietitian can assist those suffering from BED by supporting them to normalise their relationship with food and challenge abnormal behaviours. They can also educate patients on nutrition as well as optimising their nutritional needs.
If you think you may have binge eating disorder, you should ask yourself the following questions:
Do you have episodes of eating a large amount of food in a short period of time while experiencing a sense of loss of control over the eating more than once a week?
Do you feel like you do not have control over your eating?
Do you feel shame, guilt, or regret after overeating?
Do you often eat when you’re not hungry?
Do you often eat alone because you’re embarrassed about how much you eat?
Tips which may help whether you’re struggling with overeating or binge eating:
Eat 3 meals a day and include snacks
Remove any rules around food which you may have formed
Make your meals satisfying (check out my earlier Instagram posts on how to do this)
Use alternative coping strategies, these include:
Calling a friend
Listening to music
Taking a bath or shower
Remember this list is not exhaustive. It is important to recognise that if you think that you or someone that you know is struggling, these conditions are treatable and the most crucial first step is to seek expert support and treatment.