Binge Eating: When Mealtime Feels Out of Control

4 min read  |  February 24, 2023  | 
Disponible en Español |

When you feel bloated and sluggish after eating, you probably regret having stuffed yourself. Occasional over-indulging, eating when stressed out or sad, and mindlessly munching in front of the TV are not great habits. But, people with binge eating disorder (BED) struggle with food moderation and portion control at every meal, every day. 

Left untreated, this psychological and medical disorder can lead to obesity and related conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and sleep disorders. Plus, the shame of binging can trigger or worsen feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and depression.

“Individuals with BED regularly eat large amounts of food while experiencing a sense of loss of control over the eating episode,” says Shirley Gazabon, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in treating bariatric surgery patients at the University of Miami Health System. “They often feel guilt or shame after eating.” 

Their compulsive eating cannot be controlled simply by practicing mindful eating or learning about nutrition and proper portion sizes. 

Bulimia is a different eating disorder. It can involve a pattern of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or abuse of laxatives, diet pills, or excessive exercise. People with bulimia are preoccupied with achieving a specific weight or body size/shape.

While those struggling with BED eat excessive amounts of food in response to strong emotional triggers, they do not have an urge to induce vomiting.

Is binge eating interfering with daily life?

  • Do you often consume large amounts of food, even when you’re not hungry?
  • Are you a noticeably fast eater?
  • Do you typically feel uncomfortably full after eating?
  • After eating, do you often experience disgust, guilt, or a depressed mood?
  • Do you find yourself preoccupied with thoughts about food and your next meal?
  • Do you associate certain foods and the act of eating with comfort?
  • Do you find it difficult to stop eating, even when you’ve made a conscious effort to stop?
  • Do you hide from others in order to eat?

Binge eating disorder is treatable.

The first step? Get diagnosed by a mental health professional. 

“Effective evidence-based treatments are available for BED,” Dr. Gazabon says. “These include specific forms of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy. CBT emphasizes helping individuals learn to be their own therapists. Through guided therapeutic exercises as well as ‘homework’ exercises, patients develop coping skills and learn to change their own thinking, problematic emotions, and behavior.” 

Psychologists use cognitive reframing to help BED patients identify and change their maladaptive thoughts about food and the emotions and stressors that trigger their impulse to binge.

Using journals and weekly logs, followed by behavior-modification strategies, “individuals develop the ability to identify and replace self-sabotaging behaviors with healthy behaviors and better self-care. Mindful eating and relaxation training strategies are also effective at improving self-control,” she says.

These therapies help patients identify (name and understand) their emotions and respond to them in healthy, productive ways that don’t involve eating. These treatments can improve patients’ relationship with food, mental and physical health, and quality of life.

Ready to address your relationship with food?

At UHealth, bariatric specialists provide mental health tests and treatments for patients with BED and other eating disorders.

Our team can diagnose and address your underlying conditions whether you are considering bariatric surgery for weight loss or psychological counseling and behavioral therapy for BED. 

As a UHealth bariatric patient, you can improve your relationship with food, your emotions, and your body — as you learn and implement healthy lifestyle changes. 

To schedule a consultation, call 305-689-1910 or request a consultation online.

Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UHealth’s news service.

Tags: behavioral health, Dr. Shirley Gazabon, episodes of bingeing, healthy eating, weight gain

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