Binge Eating Disorder: Symptoms And Treatment For The Illness Affecting More Than 350,000 In The UK

This Is The Second Most Common Eating Disorder In The UK (But You Probably Haven't Heard Of It)

'Bingeing' is a term that's thrown around loosely in society. We binge on booze and Netflix without batting so much as an eyelid. But for a small portion of society, bingeing takes on a far more serious meaning.

Binge eating disorder (BED) now affects so many people that it has recently become recognised as an eating disorder in its own right.

A 2015 report by charity Beat found that 357,261 of the estimated 725,000 people affected by an eating disorder suffer from BED - that's almost half of sufferers.

To put that into perspective, 360,764 people suffer from bulimia and 6,819 suffer from anorexia.

Bingeing can be a very secretive and guilt-ridden experience. Sufferers will uncontrollably eat, hiding away so that others cannot see them.

Sally Slater suffers from the disorder. She described her first binge eating episode in a candid blog on The Huffington Post: "I ate all of the frosting off of a birthday cake in front of the refrigerator in secret. I just wanted a taste, but once I started, I couldn't stop."

She explained that when she reached college age, she began to binge regularly.

"The bingeing got worse when I was studying abroad," she wrote. "I'd eat my food and my roommate's food, and then I'd go out and buy more. I'd eat until I felt ill. I'd have to replace my roommate's food, which made me feel guiltier."

Her eating disorder soon spiralled and she would binge three or four times a week, downing anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 calories in one sitting.

She said that she would never binge in public and described the act as a "shameful, secretive thing". Her experience is a common one among sufferers.

So what exactly is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating can be defined as "consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time". Often, a person will eat until they become uncomfortably full.

"A person who binge eats uses food as a means of coping with, or silencing, negative emotions such as anxiety or depression," said a spokesperson for eating disorders charity, Beat.

"However, the feelings of guilt and shame that often follow a binge episode can make the person feel worse rather than better, and cause them to become secretive and dishonest about their eating habits."

The condition tends to first develop in young adults, although many people do not seek help until they are in their 30s or 40s.

It is estimated that it affects both men and women equally.

Symptoms of binge eating disorder

People with binge eating disorder can spend "abnormal" amounts of money on food. They will then eat in secret, so that the amount of food being consumed is not observed.

"Because of the amount of food eaten, many people with binge eating disorder can become obese," says Beat's spokesperson. "This can lead to problems with blood pressure, heart disease and a general lack of fitness."

The disorder can also result in health issues including stomach pain, irregular periods in females, poor or spotty skin, constipation and sleeping difficulties.

Other signs of binge eating include: eating much more rapidly than usual; eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry; hiding food wrappers; feeling out of control around food; feeling ashamed, depressed or guilty after bingeing; and being unable to purge or compensate for the food eaten.

What causes the disorder?

It's not clear what causes binge eating. According to the NHS, like most eating disorders, it's seen as a way of coping with feelings of unhappiness and low self-esteem.

It is believed that the following can increase a person's risk of developing binge eating disorder:

:: Low self-esteem and a lack of confidence

:: Feelings of stress, anger, boredom or loneliness

:: Dissatisfaction with your body and feeling under pressure to be thin

:: Stressful or traumatic events in your past

:: A family history of eating disorders

:: Differences in your brain or the level of hormones produced by your brain compared to people who don't binge eat.

How can people seek help?

For those who might be reading this and feeling concerned about their own attitudes towards eating, the next best step is to seek help and support.

"For yourself, do try to tell someone you trust," advised a Beat spokesperson. "They are likely to be more understanding than you realise, and having someone ‘on your side’ will make it so much easier to make the changes you will need to overcome your difficulties."

Treatment options include attending self-help programmes, guided self-help (supervised by regular contacts with a professional), specialist group intervention and individual psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

There is also medication available called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

For people who are worried about a family member or friend, Beat's spokesperson added: "Don’t be afraid to talk to them and offer support. The chances are they are desperately hoping someone will notice and reach out to them.

"Try to understand and ask about what is worrying them, rather than blame and shame them - they already feel dreadful, and that doesn’t help. Talking about their feelings, rather than the food is a good starting point."

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