This week I want to cover a topic that I feel is crucial to discuss because it is often overlooked: binge eating disorder. It is estimated that over 8 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder, and that 10 percent of college women develop one. Binge eating disorder, also known as B.E.D, is the most common eating disorder in the United States, though it has yet to be classified as a distinct psychiatric condition.
Unlike anorexia, which is characterized by starvation, or bulimia, which is characterized by binging and purging, binge eating involves consuming unusually large amounts of food without compensating for the excess calories.
Everyone overeats from time to time. Holiday parties, family get-togethers — it happens and is pretty much inevitable. But for some, overeating is more than a second helping. Binge eating has very distinct characteristics from overeating, and can cause life-long turmoil if not treated.
Binge eating disorder comes with a variety of symptoms that affect a person both physically and mentally, including: often eating large amounts of food, often eating alone or in secrecy for fear of embarrassment, eating faster than normal, eating if you are already full, even to the point of pain and discomfort, feeling guilty, depressed or disgusted after eating and feeling out of control when you eat.
After a binge episode, many feel extreme guilt which can often lead to more binges, rather than stopping them. The complications that come from binge-eating can be very dangerous. Many of these complications come from the excessive weight gain most binge eaters tend to experience. Obesity, depression, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, suicidal thoughts, heart disease, headaches and gallbladder disease are all potential effects of extreme binge eating behavior.
The reasons that binge eating exists are unclear, but there are various factors that contribute. Some who have B.E.D. — or any eating disorder — may have inherited a gene that made them susceptible to developing it. Simply being a female means you’re more likely to develop a disorder, usually during adolescence or the early 20s. Family history and environmental factors can also contribute. If someone has been around a close family member who had abnormal eating habits, they may be more likely to develop these same habits.
Additionally, the United States has created a culture based on the notion that people should be thin and fit, especially women. Many who don’t fit this bill, but desire these ideals may eat to feel better, but feel guilty subsequently, which could generate the beginning of the disorder. Some who overeat do so because of strong negative emotions like low-self esteem.
Stress is a huge factor as well. Depression or sadness can be a significant cause because those who binge may be using food as comfort in lieu of managing their emotions. Dieting can also lead to binge eating. Those who have a mixed history of dieting may have a higher risk of developing binge eating disorder since restricting calories too much can causes cravings. Remember, however, that the causes for eating disorders are never matter-of-fact and the factors listed above are just a few that seem to be most common.
Having an eating disorder of any kind can be very embarrassing and difficult to discuss with even close friends or family, but the disorders can be life threatening and should be treated. Confiding in someone about these issues is never simple, but it’s the first step toward recovery. If you know or believe that someone has an eating-disorder and want them to seek help, please discuss it with them with the utmost respect.
There are tons of services out there for people who want help with an eating disorder and we just so happen to have one here on campus that’s free for all students. University Health Services offers individual and group counseling as well as medical evaluations and nutrition consultations. Even if you aren’t sure whether you have developed an eating disorder, I highly recommend visiting the UHS for an initial consultation. Doing this takes a lot of courage, but I assure you, if you do it you’ll be very glad that you did. The staff there is very professional and understands the issues at hand, and talking to someone is easily one of the best things you can do.
UHS provides students with the resources mentioned above, as well as two additional support groups. ED Liberation Front, as described on the UHS website, is for students who are ready to live healthy lives and take active stands against their eating disorders. The Mindful Eating Group is for those seeking help to stop destructive eating habits. In that particular group you will learn how to listen to your body and know when you are hungry or full. It can help you understand your emotional patterns and how they relate to your eating habits, and most importantly, it emphasizes body acceptance.
If you’d like to learn more about the UHS services you can visit their webpage www.UHS.wisc.edu. If you’d like to learn more about binge eating disorder, or any other type of eating disorder, MayoClinic.com has some excellent information.
Jenny Slattery is a sophomore majoring in journalism. Want a healthier lifestyle? Send questions and comments to her at [email protected]