Updated: Feb 18
In our practice we're often asked "what does binge eating actually do to my body" and thought it'd be a useful topic to share some insights on.
At it's core, binge eating is a serious mental health disorder which, acutely as well as over an extended period of time, can have some pretty significant physical health consequences. In this blog post, we will take a look at some of the most common ones.
What is binge eating?
Binging can be defined as eating unusually large amounts of food within a relatively short period of time while feeling that one lacks self-control in regards to their behavior around food.
Binging is often secretive and done alone. Binge eaters often feel guilt and shame after binges, even if they cannot control these episodes. Binge eating disorder (BED) is further defined by the frequency of these episodes which, to meet clinical diagnosis, a person would need to have episodes of binge eating at least once a week for three months.
To quickly recap; binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following symptoms:
Eating much more quickly than normal
Eating until uncomfortably full
Eating large amounts of food even when not physically hungry
Eating alone because of embarrassment about how much one is eating
Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward
How binge eating effects our body weight
Binge eating can cause dramatic and erratic weight changes. In some cases, people will rapidly gain weight as a result of binge eating. Short term, this is likely due to additional food in your gut, changes in body water and changes in stored carbohydrate (in muscle and the liver). Long term, this may increases in body fat mass (thanks to the consistent intake of excess calories).
In other cases, people may lose weight rapidly after binge eating due to the fact that they are not able to absorb all of the nutrients from the food they ate. It may also load to involuntary physical sickness (which can lead to weight change) and, in some cases, individuals may begin to use physical sickness (described as purging and part of the bulimia nervosa diagnosis) to avoid weight gain.
People with bulimia may secretly binge and then purge, trying to get rid of the extra calories in an unhealthy way. Bulimia itself has a range of it's own short and long term health consequences.
Either way, these extreme fluctuations in weight can be extremely dangerous and can lead to a number of health problems down the road.
How binge eating effects hunger
Binge eating disrupts the natural balance of hormones in your body that are responsible for regulating your appetite and metabolism. As a result, you will often find yourself craving foods that are high in fat and sugar, which can lead to the development of unhealthy eating habits over time.
Depending on your relationship with these foods, there may also be underlying emotional drivers which lead to the excessive consumption of these foods.
Binge eating also disrupts your body’s natural circadian rhythm, meaning that you may not feel hungry at regular times throughout the day and instead binge eat whenever you get a chance (even if it’s not mealtime).
How binge eating effects your gut health
Binge eating can also have adverse effects on your gut health. Binge eaters tend to consume large amounts of food very quickly without chewing properly or taking breaks between meals/snacks; this means they do not give their bodies enough time to digest what was just consumed and absorb all nutrients from it before moving onto another snack or meal. As such, these individuals are at a greater risk of developing gut health problems such as constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Eating large amounts of food in a short period of time also may result in acid reflux, cramping, heartburn, and diarrhea. Repeated consumption of large amounts of food may cause long-term effects, including gastric dilation and gastric perforation, where the stomach may become so full that it can rupture.
Other risks associated with binge eating
Binge eating can also increase your risk of developing certain metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. This is because people who binge eat tend to have high levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood, which can lead to the development of heart disease over time.
Binge eating is also an incredibly stressful condition to live with and experience. Excess stress levels can lead to a number of health issues including;
Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
Aches, pains, and tense muscles
Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
Frequent colds and infections
Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
Loss of menstrual cycle
Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
Finally, binge eating has also been linked to a reduction in social interaction and physical activity, which are both key components of a healthy lifestyle. As a result, those who binge eat are more likely to become overweight or obese as well as develop associated chronic health conditions.
Binge eating can have a serious impact on your health. If you’re struggling with binge eating, please speak to a professional who can help you get the support you need. At Balance, we want to help everyone live their best life, and that includes having a healthy relationship with food.
Our team of experts are here to provide information and resources, as well as connect you with the support you need. We hope this blog post has helped increase your understanding of binge eating and its effects on the body. Have more questions? Speak to us!
Balance is Northern Ireland's leading nutritionist and dietician coaching team. We work with everyone from Olympians to office workers to help them achieve their nutrition and diet related goals.
Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you;
- Beat binge eating
- Lose weight and keep it off
- Take your sports performance to the next level and reach your full potential