Serious Health Problems Caused by Binge Eating

When you overeat, you wind up with a sore, stuffed belly. Everyone feels like this from time to time. But if you have binge eating disorder, your eating habits could lead to serious problems that might last a lifetime.

Here are four major health issues you should watch for. Learn what you can do about each one.

Weight Gain and Obesity

Weight gain is common when you binge eat. Two-thirds of those with the disorder are overweight. You put on extra pounds by eating lots of food in a short period of time and not burning the calories off with exercise.

A lot of people who binge feel bad about their weight, too. This leads to low self-esteem, which can cause more overeating. Being overweight or obese can also raise your chances of getting long-term health problems such as:

How to Watch for It

Your clothes will start to feel snug. The numbers on your bathroom scale will go up. Your doctor will check to see how much body fat you have by measuring:

  • The ratio of your weight to your height (body mass index, or BMI)
  • How big your belly is using a tape measure placed above your hips and around the middle of your body (waist circumference)

You will get tests to check your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels -- all of which can be harmed by weight gain.

What to Do About It

Treatment for binge eating starts with figuring out why you're overeating. You need to do this before you try to lose weight. Your doctor and therapist can help you get started. Next, plan to talk to a dietitian to come up with a diet and exercise program you can stick with. Ask them for tips on how you can stay at a healthy weight.

Heart Disease

Being overweight makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to the lungs and body. Having a lot of fat, especially around the belly, raises your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. All of these things boost your risk for heart attack and stroke.

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How to Watch for It

Sometimes heart disease doesn't have symptoms, so it's hard to know that you have it. Here are a few warning signs:

Always call 911 or go to an emergency room if you have sudden chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack.

What to Do About It

Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. These things protect your heart from damage and lower your risk of heart disease. Ask your doctor or dietitian for ways to eat better and exercise safely. You might also need medicine to lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

Type 2 Diabetes

People who binge eat are more likely to get type 2 diabetes, studies show. Diabetes can be a lifelong disease that requires ongoing treatment. If you have this condition, binge eating can make your blood sugar harder to control.

How to Watch for It

Look for these symptoms of type 2 diabetes:

  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme hunger or thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Need to pee more often than usual
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet

What to Do About It

Check your blood sugar as often as your doctor suggests. If you don’t know how to do this at home, ask your doctor to show you. Also ask her to tell you what your blood sugar goal should be.

Here are some ways to control your blood sugar:

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eat less fat and sugar.
  • Drink water instead of fruit juice or soda.
  • Exercise on most days of the week.
  • Take any diabetes medicines your doctor recommends.

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Depression and Other Mood Problems

Depression and anxiety are more common in people with binge eating disorder. A lot of people who binge eat do so to boost their mood. This can lead to guilty feelings that just make you binge more.

How to Watch for It

Eating too much when you're not hungry might be a sign that you're trying to numb your emotions. You might also feel:

  • Hopeless or helpless
  • Guilty
  • Like you have no interest in activities you once loved
  • Sad or empty all the time
  • Tired, or like you have no energy

What to Do About It

Some treatments for binge eating disorder can stop both the unhealthy eating and the sad mood that sometimes comes with it. These include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you feel better about yourself and stops the negative feelings that lead you to binge
  • Antidepressants, which can improve your mood and might also help against bingeing

When You Need to Go to the Hospital

Rarely, health problems from binge eating disorder can be serious enough that you need to get treated in a hospital. Here are some signs you need medical help right away:

  • You've suddenly gained or lost a lot of weight in a very short period of time.
  • You've thought about hurting yourself.
  • You can't change the way you eat, even with help from doctors, family, and friends.
  • You feel depressed or anxious.
  • You've been using drugs or alcohol to cope with your emotions.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 09, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Diabetes Association: "Diabetes Symptoms."

American Heart Association: “Obesity.”

ANAD: "Binge Eating Disorder."

Binge Eating Disorder Association: "Treatment Options and Providers."

Cleveland Clinic: "Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease."

Cynthia Bulik, PhD.

McElroy, Susan L. Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, 2012.

NAMI: "Binge Eating Disorder," "Symptoms, Causes and Diagnosis."

National Diabetes Education Program: "4 Steps to Manage Your Diabetes."

NHLBI: "High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know," "What are the Health Risks of Overweight and Obesity?"

Raevuori, A. International Journal of Eating Disorders, July 2014.

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Binge Eating Disorder."

UpToDate: "Binge Eating Disorder in Adults: Overview of Treatment," "Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder in adults: Medical complications and their management," "Eating Disorders: Overview of Treatment."

World Health Organization: "Cardiovascular Diseases."

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