Just like obsessive calorie counting, anorexia, and bulimia are serious conditions, there exists another side to this spectrum. One that is quite often dismissed or overlooked despite being just as grave and serious. And that condition is binge-eating.
While most of us frequently throw around the phrase “comfort eating” and “to eat one’s feelings” jokingly, it actually turns out that consuming large quantities of food in very little time can wreak absolute havoc upon one’s body. Now, there’s no denying it, we’ve all momentarily fallen into the binge-eating wagon at some point in our lives. It could be at a wedding, your birthday, a vacation or even a bad breakup – sometimes you just throw wind to caution, let down your inhibitions, and eat like there’s no tomorrow. However, if your binge-eating episodes are becoming more and more of a regular occurrence, well, then you may just be at risk of developing an eating disorder (1).
According to experts, an individual suffering from a binge-eating disorder can be defined as someone who will binge a minimum of one time per week for 3 consequent months. And this isn’t a disorder to be taken lightly! It comes with a myriad of negative physical and mental effects that can even run long-term. In fact, here’s exactly what occurs in your body when you subject it to binge-eating!
1. Rise In Dopamine Levels
Let’s be honest: eating makes us feel good. And this isn’t simply because it tastes incredible or satiates your hangry appetite, there happens to be a very scientific explanation for this pleasure. According to experts, when we eat, our body produces a special chemical called ‘dopamine’ (2). And in very simple terms, dopamine can be defined as the body’s “feel good” substance that is often associated with rewards – it’s the same chemical released in one’s brain when they smoke!
And while every meal that we consume releases this reward chemical, it is the fatty, sugary food items that trigger the highest levels of dopamine, which is why we’re so much more likely to binge-eat cake or potato chips rather than, say, broccoli.
2. Birth Of A Psychological Addiction
Now, you may believe that a dopamine hit sounds like a great thing. And it is – but only in moderation! According to experts, as time passes, our body builds a tolerance to this ‘feel good’ chemical and the threshold to get the initial high from the dopamine increases. Which is why you need to binge a lot more (consume a great deal more food in a lot lesser time) in order to feel good. In other words, you get addicted. And just like with any addiction, someone suffering from a binge-eating disorder will experience “sugar crashes,” which leave them weak and tired. At times these crashes can also produce shaking and sweatiness.
3. Immediate Physical Symptoms
Feeling an uncomfortable and overwhelming fullness that makes you swear you will never be able to eat again is one of the most obvious of physical symptoms to be expected. However, what else can binge-eating do? Well, according to experts, once we’ve slipped into a “food coma,” our body is pushed to work overtime in order to repair all the damage we’ve wreaked (3).
Since the body is bombarded with an overload of sugar, fat, and calories, one can expect hormones to begin fluctuating, sugar to start being stored in adipose cells, energy levels to suddenly change, and inflammation and some stress to make an appearance. As the body spends so much of its energy on trying to efficiently digest your high-calorie meal, you’re often left with fatigue and absolutely no energy.
4. Stomach Stretches
Apart from the physical effects we stated above, this is another very real consequence. Our stomachs are made of elastic tissue, which means that it can be stretched to hold our food before it shrinks back to its original size. However, when we binge-eat regularly, our stomach can get stretched permanently, say experts. And the bigger this organ becomes, the more you’ll have to eat in order to fill it – which kickstarts a vicious cycle.
5. Disruption Of Circadian Rhythm
You might be suffering from some of the effects of binge-eating, but you’re yet to relate it to your dangerous eating habits. And one such effect is a disruption of our body’s internal clock. According to doctors, when we overeat, this clock of ours could actually shift, causing us to want to eat even more (4). So, you could find yourself waking up rather hungry after midnight, or excessively hungry when you get out of bed the next morning – all of which exacerbate your binge-eating tendencies.
The binge-eating disorder isn’t simply a phase. It’s a serious condition akin to anorexia or bulimia. So, if you or someone you love is struggling to get their eating habits under control, please consult a doctor at the earliest to get the help they need.