Binge eating disorder

Binge eating is characterised by eating in frenzies and by the feeling of loss of control over one’s eating habits. (Photo:

Binge eating is a frequently occurring eating disorder, but lesser known than anorexia or bulimia, since this type of behaviour often goes unnoticed.

As the name indicates, people suffering from binge eating have eating frenzies, during which they often have the feeling of not being able to control what or how much they eat. Many are normal weight, as they tend to eat very little or in a controlled manner after their binge attack. There lies the problem with binge eating: it’s not so much about eating on a whim than about controlling what you eat – until breaking point.

Facts about binge eating

What is binge eating?

Binge eating disorder happens when a person has uncontrolled eating frenzies. Perhaps do you experience such episodes on a daily basis, perhaps every few weeks. You eat and can’t get enough, while at the same time you never feel as if you’d eaten enough. This uncontrolled way of eating may also induce feelings of shame and guilt.

Why do eating frenzies occur?

Many people with eating frenzies otherwise have control over their eating habits and pay attention to eating as healthily as possible. Eating with them might prove to be somewhat stressful. When they are tired, when they don’t feel good, or if they experience much stress in their lives, their stress level increases until the fuse blows and control is lost. Furthermore, the body gets quite hungry: constantly controlling your eating habits may make you more voracious.

What causes eating frenzies to happen?

There is hardly anything that is as simple as eating. And the gratification is instant, through the sugars and the chemical substances that are released in the organism, leading to an instant tension release. Eating may also be a source of comfort. You may be trying to get a grip on feelings of tension, emptiness, boredom, loneliness or any other uncomfortable feeling, while stilling your need for pleasure, warmth, and safety. The eating frenzies may procure you the feeling of a relaxing time-out as well as the best possibility to just let go.

Which physical consequences can eating frenzies have?

The body usually experiences irregular eating habits and weight fluctuations as a source of stress. Also, irregular eating patterns and varying quantities of food may trigger deficiency symptoms. For a woman, this can lead to disturbances of the menstrual cycle. Deficiency symptoms sometimes lead to even stronger urges; if you for example banish any carbohydrate from your diet, your body at some point will crave for it. In other words, not only is your soul craving for food but your body as well.

Why is it so difficult to move beyond eating frenzies?

Through constant repetition, your body has learned that when feeling stressful, the fridge is the solution. It is therefore important to teach your body other behavioural patterns that will that bring you comfort and that allow you to “come down”, to let go, to relax. Such behaviours may not provide you with instant results. However, by repeating them, exercising them, your brain will gradually relearn.

What you can do:

  • Ask yourself what you’d have to give up in order not to have such eating frenzies: however much you suffer from such eating habits, they provide you with something that makes you feel good. What could you replace it with?
  • Ask yourself which type of behaviour you could develop or strengthen, in order to feel more pleasure, to relax, or to just let go…
  • Practice these behaviours.  Don’t assume that they will provide you right away with the same type of feeling that you get from eating frenzies. Your brain learns through constant repetition how good they feel.
  • Go to a consultation centre specialised in eating disorders if you suspect having binge eating syndrome. The earlier you go, the better it is: you quality of life suffers from your eating habits.
  • Consult a general practitioner. Some deficiency symptoms and incompatibilities facilitate eating frenzies. Information centres can recommend you some physicians that are specialised for this kind of situation.
  • A loss of control over eating habits can only occur when you do exert control over your eating habits. Also, controlled eating behaviour leads to deficiencies that will only make you more hungry. Therefore, do not follow any diet!
  • Consider asking for nutritional advice from a specialist, who is familiar with eating disorders and will help you identify your own eating patterns, select food with a focus not solely on healthy food, but food that makes you feel good.
  • Look for opportunities of positive experiences with your own body. The goal should be to achieve inner fulfilment, so that you no longer need to fill the feeling of emptiness with food. You could also consider doing a body-focused therapy.

Text: Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ess-Störungen (Resource centre for eating disorders)
Translation: MyH – 04/2017