At least 5% of the UK population are living with binge eating disorder at one time. That's not even taking into account the amount of people who are undiagnosed, or who are binging routinely.
If we had to estimate (don't quote me on this!), we would guess that more like 20-40% of the population are suffering from binge eating.
What is the difference between eating a little too much and a binging?
Binge eating is:
Feelings of guilt and shame about how much you eat, what you eat, or how you eat
Feeling embarrassed about the amount or type of food you eat
Disgust over eating - if you struggle with binging, you know this feeling, right?
Eating alone and in secret - being home alone is a big trigger for binging
Hiding binging and food from others - eating very healthy or very little when you're around other people is really common if you binge
Feeling out of control around food
Do these feelings sound familiar? You can read more about the difference between binge eating disorder and binge eating here.
What does binge eating do to you?
We work with so many people like you who are struggling with overeating and binge eating.
You might feel worried about what binging is doing to your body. That's why we've written this article to tell you how binge eating might be impacting you. We will cover both physical and mental effects.
Disordered eating (such as binging) makes you out of tune with your body. But taking some time to listen to what it’s telling you can prove useful.
What does binge eating feel like it's doing to you? How does it make you feel? Both physically and emotionally.
Today, we are telling you about ten ways binge eating is impacting you:
1. Gastrointestinal problems
Gastrointestinal is the proper term for your digestive system.
Digestive problems happen when you binge due to the large amount of food that goes into your body. This affects an area of your throat called the lower esophageal sphincter. This is a band of muscle right at the bottom of your throat. When this is affected by a large amount of food moving through it can cause acid reflux. We have a whole article about dealing with acid reflux and heartburn.
Binging might alter hunger and fullness signals. This can lead to feeling really full or eating to the point it has an effect on the stomach and rest of the digestive system.
Straight after binge eating you might experience any of the following:
Being uncomfortably full
Feeling sick, either extremely sick or slightly nauseous
Acid reflux or indigestion
These are physically uncomfortable, but can also signify deeper problems that might be going on.
If you’ve been bingeing for a long time or on a regular basis, and you are having these symptoms, we would recommend reaching out to chat about support.
Long term gastrointestinal issues from binge eating
Long term binging can lead to gastric dilation.
Binge eating can also cause abdominal pain. This is said to feel similar to appendicitis and can be an indicator of the stomach being overfull and at risk of rupturing. This is rare, but something to be aware of.
Binge eating is also linked to:
Bloating that's persistent and interferes with life
Around 68% of people who binge eat (including those struggling with bulimia) experience daily digestive issues. Even after binge eating has stopped for a period of time - it takes time to heal your digestion system.
It's distressing to feel uncomfortably full. It's even more distressing to feel out of control with food and your body.
This means you might feel negatively about your body. If you’re feeling ‘heavy’ and overful, you probably won’t feel your best either.
If you’re feeling ashamed about how you look or feel, this can be compounded with shame about how much you’re spending on food. We have an article all about the financial cost of binge eating. If you’re finding the cost adding up, or feel you can’t tell your partner / friends / family about the food you’ve been buying, know that you are not alone. Many people are feeling the same.
3. Rebound dieting
Weight cycling or yo-yo dieting - whatever you want to call it; the dieting cycle is hard to escape. After a binge it’s natural to think about how to reverse the effects of the binge.
In fact it might be restriction that leads to the initial binge. I know this sounds a bit strange; you want to eat less, not more. I hear you.
But people who binge eat are often restricting in some way. There are two types of restriction; physical and mental:
Physical restriction: reducing the amount of food you consume either through fasting, dieting or excessive exercising. This may lead to purging or it may not. This may involve food rules, calorie counting, specific meal plans or avoiding certain whole types of foods.
Mental restriction: the way your brain thinks about what you are / should be eating. This normally involves a lot of shame, guilt and judgement.
Even if you have physically stopped dieting or restricting foods you might experience mental restriction. For example you could be eating a cookie while thinking it’s something you “shouldn’t” be eating or commenting that you’ll eat better tomorrow…
“Tomorrow I’ll eat better”
“I’ve already blown it today, I might as well start again tomorrow”
“I can’t be hungry I just ate”
Mental and physical restriction both:
Can lead to overeating and binge eating
Signals to your brain that you are deprived of food
Affects your hunger cues
Stresses the body
It’s easier to spot someone physically restricting. But with mental restriction, the narrative is internal. So only you know how you’re treating yourself. Let us be clear: physical and mental restriction are both are worthy as support.
The food you binge on might vary. But most peoples binge foods are those high fat and high in sugar.
It’s no coincidence these are also called "’bad’’ and "unhealthy.’’
Did you know that research suggests that even thinking a food is bad as you eat it can increase your blood sugar levels? It goes to show - how you think about food really is important for your health. One study found that viewing food as unhealthy might increase the risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and even heart disease.
Binging also impacts your immune system. This is due to the spikes and falls in insulin in the body. This can last up to 24 hours post binge. So if you find yourself experiencing more coughs and colds, consider if this has occurred in a similar pattern to binge eating.
Remember: this is not to shame your binge eating. You’re binging for a reason. But, it can be helpful to know why certain things are going on - ultimately it’s bringing more awareness to what’s going on for you.
Bingeing can lead to an increase in blood pressure. Which hot showers can then increase more. We know that a hot shower makes sense after binge eating.
But, showering after a binge can lead to light headedness, discomfort, and risk of fainting
Binge eating has been associated with feelings of shame and guilt after binges - What do you do if you feel like you have no one to talk to about what you’re experiencing?
Because of these feelings binge eating has been associated with:
Internalising shame into negative self talk / thoughts
Body image becoming affected by shame
Eating disorder symptoms / increased disordered eating
Increased depressive symptoms
Increasing feelings of guilt and shame - creating a cycle
Having continual feelings of guilt and shame can lead to social isolation as you feel you need to hide binging episodes from friends and family.
Having such a potentially large component of your life be a secret can be tiring, and emotional. This can lower your quality of life, causing psychological effects that last a long time. If you find yourself feeling ashamed, anxious and guilty about binging it may be time to work with someone who can help explore these feelings.
6. Sleep problems
If you find yourself suffering from insomnia and sleep troubles, you’re not alone. Those with binge eating disorder are almost three times more likely to report insomnia symptoms than those not experiencing binge eating.
What does your body want more of when you're tired?
Food. In particular, high sugar foods as they provide quick energy bursts.
It's a bit of a cycle, huh? Sleep troubles lead to binge eating or overeating (followed by guilt, shame, trying to cut back...) and this leads to more problems with sleeping.
Insomnia can also cause: