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What are the Emotional Symptoms of Binge Eating?

written by: ccrzadkiewicz • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/14/2010

What are the emotional symptoms of binge eating, and what drives binge eaters to consume such massive amounts of food? Yes, they’re hungry, all right, but their hunger isn’t for food. What they crave is something to ease the pain of unwanted emotions.

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    Binge Eating: Emotional Symptoms and Treatments

    Webster’s defines the word “binge” as “a completely unrestrained action,” and for individuals who are binge eaters, that unrestrained action, of course, is eating. The psychosocial definition of binge eating, though, is “the rapid, uncontrolled consumption of large amounts of food,” and binge eating, also known as compulsive overeating, is “a response to a combination of familial, psychological, cultural, and environmental factors" (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, p. 327-328). Yet, many people aren’t aware of the emotional symptoms of binge eating or the methods of treatment available to help suffers overcome a destructive eating disorder that can greatly detract from the overall quality of their lives.

    Emotional Symptoms of Binge Eating

    According to Charles Zastrow and Karen Kirst-Ashman, coauthors of Understanding Human Behavior, binge eaters are responding to undesirable emotions, for example:

    • Loneliness
    • Frustration
    • Insecurity
    • Anger
    • Depression

    The act of binging takes sufferers’ minds off their concerns, at least while they are eating; however, once a binge is over, they experience not only the renewed pain of the emotions they were desperately trying to alleviate with food but also the additional emotions of shame, guilt, and embarrassment because they once again gave in to the unwanted desire to consume excessive amounts of food.

    Additionally, many binge eaters tend to avoid social situations and interpersonal contact; and such self-imposed isolation, as noted by Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, often becomes a dominant behavior pattern. For one, many binge eaters are drastically overweight, though not all, since some, like bulimics, purge after eating excessively. However, regardless of whether or not they are overweight, many compulsive overeaters fear that their being in social situations or around others will result in their embarrassing “secret” somehow being revealed.

    Binge eaters often share certain other emotional symptoms, for example:

    • Feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, ineffectiveness, and worthlessness
    • A strong desire to please others, even if it means denying oneself
    • A profound need for attention, approval, and affection
    • Frequent bouts of depression, accompanied by a deep sense of hopelessness and despair

    Recommended Treatments for Binge Eating

    When it comes to treating binge eating, Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman say that professional intervention is generally needed because this disorder, like other eating disorders, is complex and serious. Although the selected method of treatment ultimately depends upon the individual’s unique circumstances, some recommended methods include these:

    1. Hospital care, either on an inpatient or outpatient basis.
    2. Psychotherapy, with a goal of increasing self-esteem, resolution of negative and unwanted emotions, and resolution of internal conflicts.
    3. Family therapy, since family dynamics often play a key role.
    4. Nutritional counseling by a registered dietitian.
    5. Antidepressant medication.

    Regardless of the method utilized, however, treatment has three main objectives:

    1. To resolve the psychosocial and family dynamics that led to the disorder.
    2. To correct any medical problems that resulted from the disorder.
    3. To reestablish healthy eating behavior and, in the case of obese individuals, normal weight.

    In summary, binge eating is a serious psychosocial malady, but with professional treatment, sufferers can regain control of their eating habits and greatly improve the overall quality of their lives.

    Sources:

    1. Webster’s New World Dictionary (2001) New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.
    2. Zastrow, C. & Kirst-Ashman, K. (1995) Understanding Human Behavior. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers