Ask the Doctor
1-17-18 Dear Doc, I have attacks of overeating. I eat when I’m not hungry and keep eating until I’m ready to explode. Afterwards I feel horrible. I think, “I did it again, and now I’m going to gain all this weight.” I don’t vomit or anything. I just eat. What’s wrong with me?
People battle with food in many ways. Some restrict their diet until they’re dangerously underweight (anorexia), and others eat excessively then use compensatory strategies to lose weight, like vomiting or abusing laxatives (bulimia). But the most common eating disorder is binge eating disorder (BED). In 2013, it was estimated that 2.8 million Americans struggled with this illness. That’s three times more people with BED than with anorexia and bulimia combined! You’ll need to see your family doctor or a psychiatrist for a diagnosis of BED, but keep reading to learn more about the disorder and ways to deal with it. I hope this helps.
BED is a serious illness characterized by uncontrolled eating and associated weight gain. People with this disorder tend to eat unusually large amounts of food in a small period of time until uncomfortably full. The eating isn’t triggered by hunger. Often they feel embarrassed afterwards and promise themselves to stop, but the overeating is such a compulsion they find themselves doing it again. Many people with BED hide the behavior and eat in secret. The sufferer is sometimes overweight and may diet in efforts to get thinner, but they never vomit, use laxatives, or exercises excessively to compensate for the extra calories. The severity of the illness is measured by how many times/week the person binges.
Binge eating disorder is perfectly treatable. If you’re struggling with overeating, consider touching bases with a professional. I recommend a therapist and a physician. A psychotherapist can help identify any underlying psychological causes for your overeating and provide extra support. They can help you change your relationship with food. Family physicians and psychiatrists can prescribe medications to help diminish the binging. They can also rule out other causes of excessive eating, like depression or medication side effect.
How about self-help strategies for BED? There are things you can do to gain control over the over-eating. Here are some ideas.
(1) Manage that stress. If anxiety jump-starts your binging, try to find new ways to deal with stress. Work on coping skills. Pursue mindfulness or meditation. Substitute eating with watching a good movie, talking to a friend, drawing a picture, or going for a walk. Often you’ll find that urge to binge disappears if you do something else. Check out 150+ fun things to do for more ideas.
(2) Take control. Get to know your body and the feeling of fullness. This can be challenging, since the brain is slower than the belly to recognize when it’s time to stop eating. Your job: over time, consciously identify the point where you’d like to stop eating.
- The first time around, stop when you feel “stuffed and sick.”
- Next time, pull back to “stuffed but not sick.”
- Next, try “overfull.”
- Eventually aim for “comfortably full.”
Give yourself credit for each step in the right direction!
(3) Eat slowly. It takes 10-20 minutes for your brain to figure out that the stomach’s full. So eat very slowly. Chew thoroughly between swallows. Focus on the colors, shapes, and sizes of the food. Notice the texture and taste when you put in in your mouth. Take one bite at a time. Consider eating frozen fruit; it forces you to slow down. A slowed-down binge often means a smaller binge.
(4) Join Overeater’s Anonymous. Finding enough support can be key to overcoming a binge eating disorder. Check online to find your local chapter.
That’s a little about BED. If you’re struggling with out-of-control binges, please touch bases with a doctor. BED can have negative consequences, including stomach tears, vomiting blood, weight gain, heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Don’t delay in getting help!