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Binge eating: A consuming desire

Binge eating disorder can cause a variety of health problems.

Most of us eat a bit more than we need sometimes, on a special occasion or during an evening out. But for some people, overeating in large amounts is routine—and doesn't feel like a choice.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), people with binge eating disorder:

  • Frequently consume abnormally large amounts of food, even when they're not hungry.
  • Feel they can't control how much they are eating.
  • Eat very rapidly.
  • Eat until uncomfortably full.
  • Eat alone because they are embarrassed about how much food they eat.
  • Feel disgust, depression or guilt after overeating.

How common is it?

Binge eating disorder affects about 3.5% of women and 2% of men in the U.S., according to the NIDDK.

What causes it?

Experts have not determined the exact causes of binge eating disorder. Depression seems to be a factor. People report that they tend to binge when they feel sad, bored, anxious or angry.

How does it harm the health?

Most people with binge eating disorders are obese, which can result in high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, heart disease, gallbladder disease and some types of cancer. People with binge eating disorders tend to have low self-esteem and feel ashamed of their appearance. They may avoid social gatherings or try to hide their problem.

What treatments are available?

A combination of treatments including psychotherapy, medication and support groups can help binge eaters to:

  • Monitor and change their eating habits.
  • Examine their relationships with others and address problems. Many people with the disorder overeat because of unresolved emotional issues with family or in other relationships.
  • Change the way they respond to difficult situations.

Getting help and support is a necessary step in successfully recovering from binge eating disorder, according to the NIDDK.

reviewed 11/8/2019

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