Are you one of the binge eaters?


Binge eating is one of the lesser-known eating disorders. This disease is associated with the inability to handle emotionally tense situations, not only in a negative sense but also in a positive one. Attacks of overeating do not appear only in bouts of anger, anxiety or depression, but also in situations where we experience great joy, and are sexually or mentally excited.

What exactly is meant by binge eating? Is it a physiological or rather a psychological issue?

Binge eating (or BED syndrome from the English "binge-eating-disorder" as we call it professionally) is one of the newer eating disorders that are starting to appear more and more often in people. It is estimated that approximately 15% of moderately obese people suffer from this disorder. We associate the term eating disorder more with diseases such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. I often hear the question whether body image disorders, which include binge eating, are only about the body or just the psyche. The correct answer is that the body is very closely connected with the psyche, and therefore binge eating is as much a physiological as a psychological matter.

In what life situations do people most often fall into binge eating? Is it more related to a positive (when we are satisfied and happy) or negative (work stress, partner disagreements, sadness) period of life?

Seizure behavior appears in people especially when they feel frustrated, tense or sad or emotionally unfulfilled, as if empty. We most often fall into such an action when we do not have built-in mechanisms for managing strong expressions of emotions. And it's not only about negative feelings, but also positive ones. Whether it's binge eating or some other form of impulsive behavior, it's a way we deal with threatening or out-of-control feelings. We go through various traumas in life, but our body continues to function. The mind thinks, the heart beats and the lungs breathe. The body has many autonomous functions that we cannot control. And that's why we often voluntarily get into situations where we prioritize the needs of others and don't spend enough time taking care of ourselves. to avoid feelings of failure due to lack of control over one's emotions. Eating disorders can be triggered by life transitions as well as stressful or traumatic events. Such situations (e.g. starting a new job, discrimination, sexual assault, accident, death of a loved one, break-up) can cause us overwhelming and uncontrollable emotions that we cannot react to and simply cannot deal with. Food restriction and weight management lead people to feel in control in the midst of emotional chaos, and in turn bring a sense of relief and reduced tension. death of a close person, breakup) can cause overwhelming and uncontrollable emotions in us, to which we cannot react and cannot simply deal with them. Food restriction and weight management lead people to feel in control in the midst of emotional chaos, and in turn bring a sense of relief and reduced tension. death of a close person, breakup) can cause overwhelming and uncontrollable emotions in us, to which we cannot react and cannot simply deal with them. Food restriction and weight management lead people to feel in control in the midst of emotional chaos, and in turn bring a sense of relief and reduced tension.

What happens in our brain after binge eating? Is it a feeling of euphoria like drugs? I also liked your Instagram comparison to a shopping spree. Is it just some kind of habit we have built to make us happy for a while?

Binge eating increases levels of noradrenaline and dopamine in our brain and body, two chemicals involved in stress regulation and motivation to eat. Yes, we can compare it to drug addiction and the desire to experience a feeling of euphoria, but in this case it is temporary. Binge eating is addictive and, just like in the case of impulsive shopping, gambling, social media or sex and pornography, it is a non-substance addiction. Research shows that people who suffer from binge eating have atypical levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, as well as low levels of serotonin. This is also characteristic of those who have other compulsive vices. Impulsive actions are triggered by negative emotions, interpersonal conflicts, feelings of hunger or excessive restriction in eating (diet) or negative feelings related to the image of one's own body. And finally there is oxytocin or the so-called the love hormone, which is produced by physical or sexual contact, socialization and also eating. And it is the lonely person who may tend to produce oxytocin through increased food intake, thereby trying to reduce the level of stress and anxiety experienced.

Yes, it is a kind of mental and physiological habit. But if we think that by strengthening willpower we can fight against eating disorders, we are wrong. Probably all of us have tried some kind of diet to gain control over our eating habits. And paradoxically, most of us find that diets don't work. Even if we manage to follow the diet for a certain time, suddenly we cannot control ourselves and the pendulum swings back and rushes at us in the opposite direction. Once again, we feel out of control and the vicious cycle continues.

What are the first signs that the patient has a paroxysmal overeating and not just "normal" overeating, e.g. Sunday at the old woman's for lunch?

If we were to enumerate the basic characteristics of BED syndrome, they mainly include compulsive, frequent and fast-paced bouts of overeating and thus eating an abnormally large amount of food in a certain period of time without compensatory behavior. In order to diagnose BED syndrome, these attacks must occur at least once a week for three months. A typical signal of binge eating is the feeling of losing control while eating, sometimes even the experience of dissociation (that is, the feeling of separation from one's own body). However, it is also important to look at the cultural context of the society, as we know that some cultures really pay tribute to a way of eating that is associated with less frequent food, but in large portions. Episodes of overeating in BED syndrome lead to an unpleasant feeling of satiety. Overeating usually happens in secret or inconspicuously, even if the person is not physically hungry. And there is also a side effect that is related to the tendency to gain weight, to be overweight or obese. An occasional social event or celebration is not a recurring pattern of ingesting large amounts of food.

Why do people who suffer from binge eating feel that food will solve or delay their problems? What do they most often compensate for with that food?

This form of behavior is a way that helps us better manage threatening situations. The very fact that obesity is an accompanying phenomenon indicates to us that we try to physically envelop and increase the space from other people so that we do not experience such a high level of threat. And such situations are the moments when we seem to lose control. Food helps fill the feeling of physical emptiness. The disease also has its social consequences, which are associated with frequent isolation and loneliness. The causes of binge eating are not fully known. The disorder often runs in families that are preoccupied with food, weight, or a healthy lifestyle. Psychological factors include low self-esteem, negative perception of one's own body, trauma, stress and pressure during dieting or irrational beliefs and the search for ideals, which are often also connected with society's acceptance and stereotypes. We live in a culture that is obsessed with the perfect look and image. Overeating can be a way for a person to relax, to avoid difficult emotions or experiences. People with binge eating disorder often struggle with intense feelings of shame and self-criticism.

Does binge eating affect women as well as men? Or are there any differences, for example, in causes, reasons and manner?

Clients suffering from binge eating come in all shapes and sizes. The stereotypical idea that the so-called bingers are obese therefore it is not correct. Sometimes this disorder is associated with other eating disorders and other times it is not. And so this problem currently affects both men and women. Several studies indicate that women are more likely to have an eating disorder, which is also conditioned by higher social pressure towards the fairer sex. Diet culture and fat phobia continue to permeate our culture. Experts in diet and healthy nutrition could probably talk more about this. But all of these people have one thing in common: Body shape is a determining factor in their self-esteem and self-worth. And because they don't feel good in their bodies, they experience unsatisfactory feelings and are unhappy. Often accompanying illnesses such as depression or anxiety play a big role. And culturally mediated concerns about body image and personality traits such as perfectionism and obsessiveness are a significant factor. For these people, stress perpetuates the cycle of overeating and affects sleep and mood, increases cortisol and triggers emotional eating.

Binge eating is also related to eating disorders, e.g. bulimia? Resp. can it lead to it?

Binge eating is one of the specific eating disorders. Although anorexia nervosa or bulimia are better-known terms in the media, BED syndrome is starting to establish its place as a topic in the field of eating disorders. The behavior patterns of these disorders are actually almost the same. They appear more often in rich Western cultures. People suffering from binge eating often severely limit their food intake during most of the day and are prone to overeating at certain times of the day. Manifestations of irrational beliefs and especially perfectionism are present in all versions of eating disorders. We could even consider whether excessively healthy eating habits and counting calories or individual food components in athletes is not a very similar mechanism. In any case, the treatment of eating disorders aims to

Does a person feel guilty after such a binge? Does he realize that he has done something "bad/unhealthy/out of the norm"?

Yes. Binge-eaters actually feel guilt, depression, even hatred after the binge. These feelings are fueled by self-directed anger. And it is in such situations that a person can despise himself, call himself a weakling and feel disgusted with himself. Resistance cannot be overcome by self-blame, diets, or unrealistic expectations or lack of encouragement. One realizes that something is wrong, but these patients are often very resistant to treatment. Attitudes and behavior about food, body image, or health change very slowly. The classic view of eating disorders is that people focus on various forms of restriction - diets, meal replacements, restricting certain food components - while deeply convinced that they are doing the right thing. However, their behavior has multiple causes, including personality characteristics, childhood experiences, social comparison, stressful or traumatic events, or cultural standards of beauty. Personality traits include perfectionism, sensitivity to negative emotions, tendency to obsessive-compulsive behavior, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, anxiety or depression. For social reasons, strong predictors appear to be the experience of bullying due to appearance and the attribution of significant importance to image and socially desirable behavior. low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, anxiety or depression. For social reasons, strong predictors appear to be the experience of bullying due to appearance and the attribution of significant importance to image and socially desirable behavior. low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, anxiety or depression. For social reasons, strong predictors appear to be the experience of bullying due to appearance and the attribution of significant importance to image and socially desirable behavior.

How can you help a person (or yourself) if they suffer from binge eating? Can he manage it himself (How? Is there an effective method?) or is a psychologist or other specialist needed?

Currently, there are many medical studies, thanks to which we try to identify the appropriate drug treatment as a support for psychotherapy, as well as the effectiveness of drugs in reducing the symptoms of overeating. The downside of surgery (eg gastric bypass) is that it can lead to relapse. Stimulant drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and antidepressants help alleviate the symptoms of BED syndrome. Since eating disorders are complex diseases, I recommend working with a nutritionist and a psychologist or other mental health expert. The key to managing binge eating is not training willpower, but verbalizing feelings and identifying the traumatic moments that triggered the disease. I also recommend clients to work with the perception of their own body, mindfulness and the development of sensory perception. In this way, we learn to pay attention to small details, and the unimportant and boring events of our life begin to change in reality, and suddenly we can identify our emotions. And we can subsequently learn to tolerate and manage them. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps to build healthy habits, and interpersonal therapy improves mechanisms for managing emotions in problematic social situations.

And what can a person do for himself? The goal of change should be to eliminate tension and frustration. We can achieve this when we adopt a healthy attitude towards food and restore the joy of eating well. Realizing that no food is bad and that judgments about what we eat are counterproductive can lead to variety in eating. At the same time, we can support resistance to stress by learning techniques for coping with it, such as breathing exercises, massages, listening to music, aromatherapy, sports, meditation or muscle relaxation. Restoring attention to oneself and a sense of presence (being here and now) while eating, in turn, helps to calm down without the use of food.

What would you, as a psychologist, advise a patient who comes to you with this problem? What are the first and basic steps to remedy?

Start noticing the things around you and the emotions they evoke in you. Some of them can lead to mindless overeating. Work on conscious eating. Mindful eating means being aware of why and how you eat. This way, you will find out whether you are a eater of boredom, crave carbohydrates or like fast food. Add healthy and fresh food and fiber to your diet. Consider whether you have any patterns of behavior that you want to address in therapy and talk about your feelings. And especially the key task will be to find ways to calm down without food and conscious eating. These steps lead to the desired goal, which is to feel good in your own body, to restore a deeper relationship with yourself, as well as a feeling of gratitude and respect for yourself. And what can the environment do for us? Help us set realistic expectations, provide support,

BONUS: You mentioned in your message that this is one of your work and personal topics. Am I to understand that this has happened to you too? Would you be willing to describe your personal experience to me? And how did you fight this problem? 

The questions were the basis for the article published in EMMA magazine (02/2023): Attack on the refrigerator (author: Anna ONDERKOVÁ)

PhDr. Ivana Čergeťová, PhD., LL.M., MBA, PCIC

I am a psychologist, NLP coach, attachment-based therapist, career counselor, and academic staff. I have been dedicated to the attachment theory in personal and work settings for over 20 years. I work on this topic not only as a counselor but also as a researcher. Meeting with me can help you if you are seeking an expert in mental health specializing in relationships, communication, and personal development. For more information, follow my social networks @radipsychologicka #attachment #relationships #love #attachment #JoinMeForAdvice #relationshiptherapist #development