The Connection Between Stress, Binge Eating and Mental Health

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Do you find yourself suddenly wanting to eat an exorbitant amount of food in a short span of time? Does it usually happen when you’re depressed, stressed or anxious? Do you feel it is a coping mechanism? If so, you might be binge eating – and it is not a good habit.

What is Binge Eating? 

Binge eating is a mental disorder. It affects the way you eat. In this disorder, you consume a lot of food every time and you tend to eat at short intervals. In binge eating, you often eat junk food, usually in secret, but too frequently. On average, 1,000–2,000 calories are consumed by a person per binge.

Difference Between Binge Eating and Overeating

Binge eating is different from overeating. In overeating, a person eats more food than required by the body at any single given moment. Most people overeat on some occasions, like a party. Binge-eating is less common and is an indicator of psychological distress.

In binge eating, you feel distressed and lose control of what you are eating and how much you are eating. After eating a lot of food, you feel ashamed, guilty, disgusted, or often can go into a state of depression. Many times, you think that you have lost control and end up overeating. Binge eating becomes a response to your depressed mental state, anxiety, over-stress, and low mood or numbness.

Every binge episode is stimulated by unfriendly emotions, depression, feelings of loneliness or boredom. In binge eating, there are no compensatory purging behaviors like vomiting to remove the body’s food, over-exercise to burn the calories, or overuse of laxatives. The person cannot think of the use of extra calories. Some clinicians call Binge Eating Disorder compulsive overeating. Although it is an eating disorder, it has a strong resemblance to substance abuse and addictive disorders, thus making it a behavioral disorder.

This mental disorder of binge eating can affect anyone irrespective of gender, age, racial and ethnic identity, social status, economic background, income level, and sexual orientation.

Binge Eating in Canada and USA 

Binge eating is the most common eating disorder and is observed in 2–5% of the adult population in the US and Canada. Females are more common sufferers than males. In females, binge eating is more noticed in early adulthood, whereas in males, it is mostly observed in midlife. Approximately 1 million Canadians have some kind of eating disorder, and binge eating disorder is one of them. Almost 2% of the Canadian population is suffering from binge eating disorder. In the US, more than 2.8 million people show symptoms of binge eating disorder. 3.5% of women, 2 % of men, and 1.6% of adolescents are suffering from this eating disorder.

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Binge Eating Facts 

  • It is very surprising to note that the prevalence of binge eating is 3 times more than the combined prevalence of other eating disorders, namely bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.
  • Binge eating is often associated with people who are overweight and obese. However, an obese person may not necessarily be a sufferer of this disorder.
  • This disorder is more common than HIV, breast cancer, and schizophrenia.
  • Eating disorders tend to run in families, so you have a higher risk of developing an eating disorder if a close family member also has an eating disorder.
  • A person who is already a victim of other mental disorders like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance use disorders has a high chance of having an eating disorder as a comorbidity.
  • A person who has already lost weight by dieting is more prone to binge eating disorder.

Symptoms of Binge Eating 

A person with binge eating disorder has the following symptoms:

  • Eats more food in every sitting
  • Loses control overeating and thus mechanically pushes the food in the mouth.
  • Eats very fast
  • Does not feel the sensation of a full stomach and thus continues to eat
  • Eats more food even when not hungry.
  • Eats even on a full stomach.
  • Eats alone, in secret, and also in the mid-night; it is due to the embarrassment.
  • Continues eating until uncomfortably or painfully full.
  • Will never compensate for calorie consumption with exercise to burn the extra calories.
  • Will never fast.
  • Will not induce vomiting or misuse of laxatives.

Health Effects of Binge Eating 

Excessive and frequent eating leads to weight gain and obesity. Obesity refers to an excessive accumulation of fat. Obesity is associated with an increased risk of other diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, atherosclerosis, hypertension, arthritis, cancers and premature death.

In the USA, 69 % of adults are either overweight or obese, and 35 % are obese. Approximately 25% of Canadian adults are obese, and the prevalence of obesity is increasing at an alarming rate. Obesity is also observed in Canadian children and adolescents. Although there are pharmacological and surgical treatments for obesity management, Binge eating disorder is treated with specialized psychological treatment as a mental disorder.

Stress and Binge Eating 

Stress is a very generalized and non-specific response of the human body to any factor that overpowers or threatens to overwhelm the body’s ability to tolerate situations. This results in an imbalanced state of mind. Stress affects human eating behavior, and it is one of the most commonly observed triggers of binge eating in individuals. Stress can be physical, like trauma or surgery, chemical like less oxygen supply, physiologic pain, psychological or emotional like anxiety, fear, sorrow, social stress like personal conflicts, and lifestyle changes.

There is a complex network of internal and external factors that affect your appetite and the amount of food you consume. Internal factors are physiological and hormonal, whereas external influencing parameters are food availability, and taste and palatability. Stress often changes our eating habits and patterns.

There is an instant physiologic response called ‘flight or fight’ in acute stress conditions, which may suppress our appetite. However, chronic psychological stresses like work pressure, job security, and financial stability may also be the cause of certain mental health disorders. A typical response to such chronic stress is exactly opposite, and the person ends up eating energy-dense foods, which can also be unhealthy. Emotional eating is another behavior that is linked to binge eating. Low social esteem makes a person eat alone due to embarrassment.

Binge Eating Disorder in Couples 

Binge eating disorder is usually seen in individuals and is often considered as an individual experience by clinicians and social workers. But, as the addiction to food progresses, it may affect both the partners, adversely affecting their health, and may harm their overall relationship. Even if the partner does not have binge eating disorder, the couple’s social life becomes affected. Partners with binge eating disorder will avoid going out for dinner and make excuses to avoid going to their friends’ place. So, the partner either ends up staying home or going alone. Such situations further trigger overeating episodes. A person with a binge eating disorder never shares his or her food fears with others. If the partner fails to understand their partner’s feelings, it ruins their romantic relationship and may even lead to separation or divorce.

In such cases, where couples are affected by Binge eating disorder, a marriage counselor can help to identify the underlying issues and resolve them. Again, the problem is finding local marriage counseling services. If you are in Ontario, Canada, you can search online for keywords like marriage counselor Ontario, marriage counseling Ontario, marriage counseling Canada or marriage counseling near me (provided location is active on your cell-phone or laptop) on Google or any other search engine.

How to Control Binge Eating 

There are several ways to control your food cravings and start a healthy lifestyle. Here are some techniques to control binge eating disorder:

  • Whenever you feel an overpowering and uncontrollable urge to binge eat, you need to help yourself stay in control. Understand & accept the urge, and ride it out.
  • Make an effort to delay the urge to binge eat. We understand it isn’t easy. However, you need to control the urge and delay it by a minute or so. Slowly increase the stretch long enough to get confidence that you can control the urge to eat.
  • You need to talk to someone and connect with others. Sharing your thoughts will make you feel better and will also engage you in some social activities. This will distract your attention and your mind will slowly get involved in something else.
  • Engage yourself in healthy activities. Start exercising regularly as exercise is the natural killer of stress. It is scientifically proven that exercise decreases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, in the body and elevates your mood by increasing endorphins levels.
  • Get enough sleep every night because sleep deprivation triggers stress and the urge to eat food.
  • It is always better to consult a doctor. Since binge eating is a stress-related mental disorder, you need to consult a psychologist or psychotherapist. In today’s internet world, it is very easy to find a psychological counselor for online counseling.

Therapy for Binge Eating Disorder 

Online counseling is the easiest treatment modality and is increasing at an alarming rate due to the pressure of modern life. The psychotherapist offers a highly personal and private counseling session, and will empower you to make the changes you need in your lifestyle and will also guide you about diet, sleep and breathing techniques to transform your life from the inside out. These techniques will de-stress you and help you lead a normal life. Psychotherapists via online counseling, live video call or through online chat will help you create more freedom in your mind and increase your self-esteem. You can avail online counseling at a convenient time as per your needs, thus ensuring complete freedom from the hassle of scheduling and setting appointments. Getting therapy online is especially suitable for the person who fears stepping out and finds it uncomfortable to visit a psychological counselor because of obesity or body-shame.

Hypnotherapy for Binge Eating Disorder 

Many times, hypnotherapy would also benefit you to address binge eating. Hypnotherapy involves counseling assisted relaxation for de-stressing and getting relief from the psychological triggers. Hypnotherapy and psychotherapy go hand-in-hand toachieve the best results in treating anxiety and depression associated with binge eating. It is very easy to search for hypnotherapy services for binge eating disorder. You need to google with keywords like online psychologists near me. For example, if you are staying in Ontario, Canada, your keywords for searching will be Online counseling Canada, Psychologists in Ontario, Counselors in Ontario, Counseling near me, Online counseling near me, Mental counseling near me, Online psychological help, Online therapy for binge eating, and so on. Use Google or any other search engine to search for the most relevant services.

In the current coronavirus pandemic and a troubled economy, many people are struggling with mental disorders. People need hope, positive thoughts, and guidance. Online counseling ensures that everyone has access to a psychological counselor and can get help whenever needed, no matter where they live.

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