The Physical Side Effects of Binge Eating: What are They?

The Physical Side Effects of Binge Eating:  What are They?
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The Often Devastating Physical Consequences of Binge Eating

In order to understand the physical side effects of binge eating, one must first have at least some comprehension of the disorder that, in medical circles, is concurrently labeled binge eating, bulimia, and/or compulsive overeating.

According to Charles Zastrow and Karen Kirst-Ashman, coauthors of Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment, “Binge eating is the rapid, uncontrolled consumption of large amounts of food” (p. 327). Moreover, binge-eaters fall into two categories: bulimics and compulsive overeaters; but while bulimics tend to purge their bodies of ingested food through self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives and are usually within a normal weight range, compulsive overeaters usually do not purge and tend to be overweight, many to the point of obesity. Then again, given the interrelationship between the two eating disorders, as Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman relate, “Some overeaters occasionally have episodes of purging and, at times, fit the criteria for being bulimic” (p. 329).

Health Issues Associated with Binge Eating or Compulsive Overeating

The physical side efects of binge eating do not develop immediately, according to Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, but gradually and over time. These complications include dehydration and electrolyte imbalance in bulimics, which can lead to cardiac arrhythmias and even death, but other complications are often just debilitating and potentially lethal.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the food consumed during a binge is usually high in fat and low in protein and other essential nutrients, and this inadequate diet contributes to the health issues experienced by binge eaters. In addition to an increased risk for obesity, these health issues include the following:

  • Severe depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Gallbladder disease and other digestive problems
  • Joint and muscle pain

In addition to the above health complications, Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman say that the self-induced vomiting of some binge eaters often leads to not only frequent sore throats but also severe tearing and bleeding of the esophagus, as well as a potassium deficiency that can result in muscular fatigue, weakness, erratic heartbeat, kidney damage, and in severe instances, paralysis or death. They also say that the digestive problems associated with binge eating range from stomach cramps to nausea to ulcers to colitis to “fatal rupturing of the stomach” (p. 328).

Of course, if binge eaters don’t purge after overeating, it’s only natural that they will gain excessive amounts of weight, and the more weight they gain, the greater the health issues they face. As Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman relate, “Being overweight is correlated with such health problems as hypertension, hypercholesterolernia, and diabetes” (p. 328). Additionally, overweight individuals, regardless of whether they suffer from an eating disorder, are far more prone to heart diseases and heart attack than people of normal weight.

In summary, given the complexity of the disorder and the seriousness of the physical side effects, Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman maintain that when it comes to binge eating, professional intervention is usually always necessary, the goal of which is to resolve the psychosocial dynamics that led to the disorder in the first place, to provide necessary medical treatment for health problems, and to reestablish healthy eating habits.


Mayo Clinic Staff: “Binge Eating Disorder: Complications,” retrieved September 27, 2010 from

Zastrow, C. & Kirst-Ashman, K. (1994) _Understanding Human Behavior and The Social Environmen_t. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers

Photo number 1161226, by Planetka, retrieved September 27, 2010 from