Among women, it seems that binge eating has become an equalizer. No matter what her size, every woman has a story to share of finding herself devouring a bag of pretzels, a pint of ice cream, or a box of cookies intended for the kids.
While it’s not uncommon to turn to food for comfort, this practice of binge eating so much and so quickly is something that should be taken seriously. Though people rarely consider it to be as dangerous as anorexia or bulimia, binge eating is considered an eating disorder, and one that affects slightly more women than men.
“Binge eating disorder isn’t the occasional indulgence,” explains Lynn Nichols, outpatient dietitian at Paoli and Riddle hospitals. “It’s a long-term struggle. If binge eating occurs at least once a week for three months and isn't associated with purging or laxatives, it's considered an eating disorder. People who are affected by it are repeatedly consuming excessive amounts of food and, even though they might have the intention to stop, find themselves unable to do so.”
Like other eating disorders, binge eating disorder is a very private struggle. Binge eating itself can be a vicious cycle, with many individuals turning to it as a way to cope with emotions like depression, anxiety, stress, job stress, financial troubles, or stress over the loss of a loved one. However, instead of finding relief, binge eating can often leave an individual feeling more shame and regret for turning to food and binge eating for comfort.
Besides leading to deeper behavioral and emotional issues, this can lead to physical health problems, as well.
“Binge eating has been linked to many serious health problems. Individuals who struggle with binge eating are more likely to be obese or overweight, but even those who are not may be more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or at a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” says Nichols.
Fortunately, as binge eating has started to gain attention as a serious health issue for women and men alike, more treatment options have become available.
Because binge eating is closely tied with emotional issues like shame and self-image, therapy is often a recommended treatment method. Your physician may offer options like cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy, which can take place in an individual or group setting. A medical weight management program, like the Medical Weight Management Program at Paoli Hospital, is also a way to explore safer weight loss options.
If you’re still having difficulty controlling your binge eating, there are medication options available, as well. Talk to your primary care physician about your options. What’s important to remember, says Nichols, is that you have options.
“Binge eating does not have to be a private struggle. If you find yourself repeatedly turning to food for comfort in emotional situations and feel out of control, don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
If you're struggling with binge eating, make an appointment with your physician to discuss your treatment options. Visit our website to find a Main Line Health primary care physician in your area or to learn more about our nutrition counseling services.