Sometimes you look down at your plate and feel surprised by how much you just ate. You might have been caught up in a moment, which resulted in overeating. Or, maybe the dish was so delicious that you refused to leave a crumb behind. These once-in-a-while binges are normal, but feeling guilty after eating or feeling pain from fullness is a sign that you may have gone too far.
Frequent binging can also be a symptom of a binge eating disorder, a serious mental health condition that can severely affect your health. Keep reading to learn if you binge eat and what symptoms you should look out for if you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from a binge eating disorder.
Binge Eating Symptoms
Indulging and occasionally overeating is normal. But if it's happening at every meal, you should get assessed for binge eating. Binge eating symptoms extend beyond the quantity of food you eat; it also includes behaviors during eating.
- Feelings of guilt after overeating.
- Feeling a loss of control while binging.
- No compensatory behaviors after eating.
- Unplanned weight gain.
- Secrecy around meal times.
- Eating despite not feeling hungry.
- Eating to the point of discomfort or pain.
Purging after a binge event is a presentation of an eating disorder called bulimia nervosa. It can include vomiting, or people can purge through excessive exercise or laxative abuse. You should be formally assessed for an eating disorder if you participate in any of these behaviors after eating.
All Foods Fit
Sometimes, people end up overeating or binging on a certain food after it has been restricted from their diet. This is most likely to happen when people follow prescriptive diet rules they saw online or are part of a diet program designed for weight loss.
Telling yourself, “no, I can’t eat that food anymore,” is one of the most effective ways to guarantee you will be thinking (and maybe obsessing) about that food. It can be harder to control your intake when you permit yourself to eat that food, either by choice or by rebelling against the diet rules. This can lead to a vicious cycle of feeling guilty after eating and reacting with emotional eating.
The all foods fit philosophy embraces the idea that your diet should include everything in moderation. Stripping away food rules and allowing yourself to enjoy smaller portions of all foods can provide you with food freedom and help you build a sustainable diet.
What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
Regular binging at meals can increase your risk of developing an eating disorder called binge eating disorder (BED). It is much harder for physicians to confirm a binge eating disorder diagnosis because the symptoms are less noticeable than other eating disorders.
This knowledge gap can be very hard on people suffering from BED. They might fly under the radar and silently suffer from their condition for years until physical symptoms manifest. Treatment is still possible, but enduring an eating disorder for so long can take a massive toll on mental health and quality of life, making it more challenging for some people to recover.
How to Know If You Binge Eat
If your doctor, or health care provider, suspects you are at risk of an eating disorder, they will likely ask you to complete a SCOFF questionnaire. It is a scientifically proven screening tool that can help detect eating disorders in people.2
There are 5 questions in this SCOFF screening tool:
- Do you make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
- Do you worry that you have lost Control over how much you eat?
- Have you recently lost more than One stone (14 lb) in a 3-month period?
- Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?
- Would you say that Food dominates your life?
If you answer yes to two or more questions, you may have an eating disorder, and you should follow up with a specialist for further assessment. They may repeat this questionnaire with you during the appointment and ask you to complete bloodwork to assess your health status further.
Who Is At Risk Of BED?
The National Eating Disorders Organization recognizes that an eating disorder can happen due to genetics, psychological, and social influences.3
Genetic Risk Factors
- Having a close family member with a diagnosed eating disorder.
- Having a close family member who is diagnosed with a mental health condition, especially anxiety.
- People with a borderline personality disorder may also suffer from binge eating or eating disorders.4
Psychological Risk Factors
- Perfectionism traits.
- Body image dissatisfaction.
- Experiencing weight stigma; being told that your body size and eating habits don’t fit the social norms.
- Following social media accounts and influencers who promote thinness or a particular appearance.
- Bullying and weight shaming.
Binge Eating Disorder Treatment
Most patients will need mental health counseling to help them heal their relationship with food and eating. While pursuing counseling, a physician may also recommend some forms of medication. Not all patients will be appropriate candidates for pharmacotherapy, but you should still learn about these options to help you make an informed treatment decision.
Most of these drugs can help reduce appetite, which means people with BED are less likely to overeat.5 Some of them will also target anxiety and other mental health conditions. Addressing mental health first can pave the way to making more meaningful diet changes later because you have greater clarity and an improved capacity to make big decisions.
A dietitian can also help you redefine your relationship with food, and they can also help you build a diet plan that is balanced in nutrients and calories. They can educate you on foods that help you feel full longer after eating, making you less likely to binge again soon after your meal.
Research has shown that treatments from all angles can have the best impact on treating BED. A combination of counseling and pharmacotherapy can lead to long-lasting changes, which is great news.6
Nourish Can Help
Battling with binging is frustrating, but you can regain control of your eating. Embracing an all-foods-fit philosophy can help to decrease binge frequency. It allows you to enjoy all types of foods without feeling restricted or guilty after eating them.
People who binge regularly, more than three times a week, should be assessed for binge eating disorder. This is a serious eating disorder; proper therapy and medications should be started immediately to help you heal. Working with a registered dietitian specializing in binge eating disorders can help you see results faster.
- Healthy Weight. (2023b, January 19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Morgan, J. F., Reid, F., & Lacey, J. H. (2000). The SCOFF questionnaire: a new screening tool for eating disorders. The Western journal of medicine, 172(3), 164–165.
- National Eating Disorders Association. (2018b, August 3). Risk Factors.
- Shaker, N. M., Azzam, L. A., Zahran, R. M., & Hashem, R. E. (2022). Frequency of binge eating behavior in patients with borderline personality disorder and its relation to emotional regulation and impulsivity. Eating and weight disorders : EWD, 27(7), 2497–2506.
- McElroy S. L. (2017). Pharmacologic Treatments for Binge-Eating Disorder. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 78 Suppl 1, 14–19.
- Hilbert, A. (2019). Binge-Eating Disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 42(1), 33–43.
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