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Myths vs. Facts: Binge Eating

Posted April 29, 2019 by Kristen A. Knepp, PhD Summa Health Clinical Psychologist

Binge Eating Blog

According to the American Psychiatric Association, eating disorders affect millions of Americans, mostly women between 12 and 35 years old. There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder (BED). The focus of this blog post will be on BED.

BED is the most common eating disorder in the US. It can be characterized by recurring episodes in which large quantities of food are consumed (more food than most people would consume over the same period of time under similar circumstances). This eating behavior often leads to physical discomfort or overfullness. Typically, individuals with BED also experience a lack of conscious control over what or how much they are eating; they may feel “zoned out” during bingeing episodes. Unlike bulimia, a person with BED generally will not attempt to reverse this large caloric intake in order to control weight gain through vomiting, laxatives, excessive exercise or other methods.

Fact: BED is a very serious health condition.

Binge eating is a severe, potentially life-threatening disease. Eating disorders, including BED, can affect multiple organ systems within the body and should be treated by a team of healthcare professionals. While obesity is the most dangerous symptom of BED, in severe cases, binge eating can cause the stomach to rupture, creating a serious medical emergency.

Obesity can cause joint and mobility problems, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, acid reflux disease, sleep apnea and other gastrointestinal disorders. For women, overweight and obesity pose even more health risks. Female binge eaters who are also obese have a higher risk of irregular periods, fertility issues and potential pregnancy complications.

Myth: All binge eaters are overweight.

Binge eating is sometimes associated with the “yo-yo diet.” Individuals can experience long breaks between binge episodes in which their eating behaviors may temporarily return to normal. Moreover, more than one-third of binge eaters maintain an average height-to-weight ratio.

Myth: Binge eaters can regain control of their eating habits without help.

While physical symptoms like rapid weight gain and loss can put strain on the heart and lungs, binge eating also affects an individual’s mental health. BED can co-occur with other psychological conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Those who struggle with binge eating often experience poor self-esteem and body image concerns. After binge episodes, many people experience distress and shame, which can enable or enhance symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Patients need the help of healthcare professionals to address the physical and emotional harm binge eating can cause. Binge eaters often spend years hiding their struggles and symptoms from friends and family. Admitting there may be a problem with one’s eating and seeking treatment are usually the hardest first steps on the road to recovery with most forms of disordered eating.

Someone could be suffering from binge eating disorder if a combination of the following symptoms occur regularly:

  • Eating quicker than normal, in much larger quantities than the average person
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortable, oftentimes without the physical cues associated with being hungry
  • Eating alone due to guilt or embarrassment, or feeling uncomfortable eating around others
  • Experiencing feelings of stress, disgust or shame after a bingeing episode
  • Regularly participating in extreme fad diets
  • Large fluctuations in weight gain and loss 

Millions of Americans experience mental health issues every year. The symptoms related to these conditions can disrupt a person’s thinking, emotions, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. The Summa Health Weight Management Institute can help you experience relief from BED symptoms while gathering hope for new possibilities in your life. We practice a patient-centered philosophy and are committed to meeting each patient’s health needs in a holistic manner.

While Summa Health Weight Management Institute providers treat various types of disordered eating, including binge eating, night eating, emotional eating, and stress eating, our providers do not treat anorexia or bulimia at this time.  Please contact your primary care physician or insurance company for a referral to a provider specializing in anorexia or bulimia treatment.


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