Beating the Binge: How to Help Fight Binge Eating Disorders

Binge eating disorder—a condition in which people repeatedly eat huge amounts of food (often high-calorie sweets and/or fatty snacks) in a couple of hours or less—affects nearly 10 million American adults. Unlike other common eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, individuals with a binge eating disorder can be normal weight overweight or obese. They feel like they have no control over their behavior and often eat in secret, even when they’re not hungry. In an attempt to take control of their weight, this group often restricts food and calories throughout the day, which often results in binges at night.

The psychological effects of binge eating disorder are particularly worrisome, as with each binge, feelings of shame, embarrassment and even depression become more and more intense. Binge eating has also been shown to trigger patterns of chemical responses in the brain that are similar to those in drug and alcohol addiction, making it very difficult to overcome without professional help.

“The disorder resembles addiction more than any other eating disorder,” Pietro Cottone, a MED associate professor of pharmacology and psychiatry and co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders, explains. “Binge eaters understand the consequences of their behavior, but they can’t stop. It’s a compulsion.”

While overcoming binge-eating disorder can often feel like an impossible feat, there is hope. People with eating disorders are often afraid to ask for help. It’s important to take action if you recognize any of the following symptoms (in yourself or others), as they may be signs of binge-eating disorder:

  • Eating even when full.
  • Hiding or stockpiling food to eat later in secret.
  • Eating normally around others, but gorging while alone.
  • Eating continuously throughout the day, with no planned mealtimes.
  • Feeling numb while bingeing—like you’re not really there/on auto-pilot.
  • Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed after overeating.
  • Desperation to control weight and eating habits.

Confronting someone you know or love about a suspected eating disorder can be a difficult situation. If you plan on doing so before getting them the professional help that they will need, it’s important to keep the following tips in mind:

  • Tell them you are concerned about their health, but respect their privacy.
  • Focus on feelings and relationships, not on weight and food.
  • Do not comment on how they look.
  • Avoid power struggles about eating.
  • Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt.
  • Avoid giving simple solutions.

If you live in Colorado and believe that you or a loved one may be dealing with symptoms of binge eating, Denver is home to a compassionate treatment facility that can help get you back on track. Eating Disorder Center of Denver offers comprehensive eating disorder programs, including specialized treatment programs designed specifically for binge-eating disorder, all of which are tailored to the specific needs of each patient – ensuring they receive exactly the care they need. The sooner you start to help a loved one, the better their chances of recovery.