12 Eye-Opening Scientific Facts About Binge Eating

woman sneaking cupcakesLet's be clear: We all overeat every once in a while. (Thank you, Thanksgiving dinner.) And many of us joke that we binge on pizza around our periods or ice cream when we're upset. But binge eating is actually a serious -- make that devastating -- disorder. And 3.5 percent of women in America will struggle with uncontrollable overeating in their lifetime.


People who binge eat consume large quantities of food in a relatively short amount of time. It's not satisfying. Rather, it can feel scary and like your body is out of control.

Here's what else you may not know about binge eating -- but should.

1. Binge eating is THE most common eating disorder. And it's not just women who are affected. Two percent of men and up to 1 percent of adolescents in the US struggle with it, too.

2. It strikes men and women at different times. Women are most likely to start binge eating in early adulthood. But for men, midlife is the most common time of onset.

3. The cause of binge-eating disorder (BED) is a mystery. But researchers do think brain chemistry is largely to blame. There could be an irregularity, for instance, in the chemicals that control your food intake. That imbalance may also cause you to crave certain foods more intensely. Family history plays a part, too, in who develops BED, as does being exposed to certain traumatic life experiences.

4.  Overindulging once doesn't mean you have a problem. Binge eating (on average) means that you're overeating at least once a week for three months.

5. "Undoing what you've done" isn't necessarily a part of binge eating. People with other EDs may vomit or exercise to get rid of the calories they've eaten. But people with BED don't routinely purge.

6. Athletes with perfect bodies may binge more than you think. Sure, athletes are hyperaware of what they eat and strive to stay a certain weight and shape. But a Spanish study found that professional athletes are at significant risk of developing BED, which is at least partly caused by that same obsession with calorie restriction.

More from The Stir: 8 Signs Your Daughter May Have an Eating Disorder

7. Binge eating can be life threatening. People who routinely binge are at risk of some serious health issues including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

8. Certain personality types are associated with BED. People who binge eat tend to have a strong need to be in control, have difficulty expressing their feelings, and have perfectionistic tendencies. They're also people-pleasers who are prone to rigid, "all or nothing" thinking.

9. Hunger has very little to do with binge eating. Rather, overeating serves as a way to relieve stress or "swallow" negative feelings. Many people report feeling angry, worthless, anxious, or ashamed right before a binge.

10. Medication may help. A drug called Vyvanse can help supress the desire to binge eat. Still, because emotions play such a large role in the disorder, seeking help from a therapist, who can help ID eating triggers and change your mindset about food, is crucial.

11. Equine therapy can ease BED symptoms. Working with, and riding, horses has been shown to help people be more aware and comfortable with their bodies, as well as more assertive and confident -- all important steps towards ED recovery.

12. Mindfulness is an effective tool. Learning to be super-aware of how your food looks, tastes, and feels on your tongue -- then savoring every bite slowly -- has proven to be a powerful technique to reduce binges.


Think you might need help with your eating? Contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 800-931-2237.


Image via wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

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