There are times when we eat more, and others less … it’s normal, because hunger is influenced by many factors, such as: stress, lifestyle, daily worries, state of mind …
But what happens when we eat too much or when we are too hungry? Then we talk about a more serious problem … overeating. In this article, we will see what it is, what are its symptoms, its causes (which can be medical and / or psychological) and possible treatments.
Overeating: what is it?
The word overeating comes from the Greek term “hyper-” (which means abundance, excess) and from the term “-phage” (which means food). In other words, it technically results in an increase in food intake, produced by an increase in appetite (although the cause may be different).
like that, in binge eating (also called polyphagia), there is an excessive increase in appetite, which is in addition to uncontrolled food intake. This usually happens without an apparent cause, although throughout the article we will try to investigate its causes, which are often related to medical or hormonal issues, beyond psychological issues.
People who suffer from binge eating are unable to differentiate themselves when they feel real hunger and when they feel anxiety, which is why they overeat in both situations. Uncontrolled eating cycles in people with binge eating can vary widely from person to person, and we’ve seen persistent hunger cycles and more or less hunger cycles (which vary).
The direct consequence of binge eating, along with many others that may be less visible to the naked eye, is an increase in body weight., Overweight or obesity (which does not always have to appear). This overweight or obesity can lead to cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
The symptoms of hypergagia are as follows.
1. Increased appetite / compulsive craving for food
It may happen that there is an increase in appetite, or that it is not really the case, and that it is more “food anxiety” or the urge to eat impulsively and / or uncontrollably. This would be the main symptom of binge eating.
2. Feeling guilty
Associated with the above symptom, a feeling of guilt over eating too much.
3. Preference for sugary or fatty foods
Another symptom of binge eating is the preference, by the sufferer, for foods high in calories, high in fat and / or in sugars (eg candies, industrial pastries, fried foods, etc.).
4. Overweight or obese
As we saw at the beginning, suffering from overeating can lead to overweight or even obesity, which in turn can lead to different types of diseases, in particular cardiovascular and endocrine (ex: diabetes).
5. Digestive problems
Another consequence of binge eating is digestive problems, which appear due to uncontrollable or excessive eating, which prevents us from digesting food properly.
The causes of binge eating can be diverse, although it is true that they are often linked to more emotional issues, as is often the case with food. However, they can also be linked to hormonal alterations. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes:
Anxiety is an altered psychophysiological state, in which the person can suffer from different symptoms such as insomnia, palpitations, dizziness, malaise, irritability, depressive symptoms, catastrophic thoughts …
In turn, anxiety is one of the possible causes of binge eating. Being anxious can cause many people to eat more, not so much because they are hungrier, but because that anxiety stems from the urge to eat. Thus, the body wrongly associates anxiety with hunger.
Another cause of binge eating is suffering from bulimia. like that, many patients with this eating disorder (ADD) can develop binge eating.
After eating, however, they often apply compensatory behaviors to counter this “excess” of food they have ingested (eg through vomiting, use of laxatives, strenuous exercise, etc.).
3. Serious illness
The causes of binge eating can also be medical and / or endocrine, as in severe illness. This disease consists of autoimmune thyroiditis which stimulates the thyroid gland. One of its symptoms can be binge eating.
4. Diabetes mellitus
Diabetes mellitus, the main symptom of which is excess glucose (sugar) in the blood, can also lead to binge eating. Remember that the reverse can also happen; that overeating causes diabetes (in this case, type II).
5. Diabetes in pregnancy
In this case, diabetes also involves excess blood glucose, although the etiology is different, and it appears during pregnancy. It can also cause binge eating in pregnant women.
Hyperthyroidism, an autoimmune disease of the endocrine system that occurs when the thyroid gland secretes excess thyroxine hormone, May also cause binge eating. So, people with this condition are at higher risk of gaining weight due to this and other reasons.
Hypoglycemia is a condition that involves low blood sugar, And can also cause binge eating.
8. Premenstrual syndrome
PMS encompasses a number of physiological and psychological symptoms that appear in women and begin during the second half of the menstrual cycle.
Among these symptoms, there is often overeating, but not always; some women experience the exact opposite, a lack of appetite or a feeling of bloating.
Finally, certain types of drugs can also cause, among their side effects, binge eating. Some of the most common are: corticosteroids, antidepressants, and antihistamines.
Treatment of binge eating requires addressing the cause of increased intake and / or appetite. If your cause is anxiety, should approach this from a multidisciplinary perspective, ideally with the participation of the psychiatrist and psychologist. The important thing is to break this cycle of “anxiety ⇒ anxiety about eating ⇒ uncontrolled or excessive consumption”.
Thus, from psychotherapy, the patient must learn to correctly identify the physiological signs of his body which indicate that he is hungry, and to differentiate these signs from his own anxiety or nervousness.
On the other hand, if the causes of binge eating are medicinal or medical, a healthcare professional should be consulted so that they can adjust the type of medication and dose appropriate for the patient, or so that they can make a diagnosis. appropriate medical care that is not yet available. In these cases, a blood and urine test is usually done; the functioning of the thyroid gland is also evaluated (to rule out hyperthyroidism, among others).
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- MedLine Plus, Medical Encyclopedia. (2020). Premenstrual syndrome.
- Sanitas, Health Library [online]. (2019). Increased hunger (binge eating).