Food Addiction and Binge Eating, Similar but Different

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  • While binge eating disorder (BED) and addictive behaviors share a number of characteristics, it would be a bit of an overreach to use the terms interchangeably. It has been proposed that overeating has degrees of severity and that binge eating disorder places high on the scale. Food addiction might be the extreme on the continuum and simply an acute form of binge eating disorder. When viewed in this light the first and last points of the sequence are distinctly different from one another although the markers along the way can be similar.  

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    Binge Eating Disorder

    Binge eating is compulsive overeating. Binge eaters will eat huge amounts of food while feeling out of control and unable to stop. Episodes usually last about two hours although some people binge on and off through the entire day. Binge eaters will eat even if they do not feel hungry and continue eating despite feeling full.

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    Those with the disorder frequently have feelings of guilt and depression. They are concerned about their behaviors and the potential physical consequences of those behaviors. Although binge eating provides momentary comfort, it is soon followed by regret and battered self-esteem. The behavior often leads to weight gain or obesity which leads to more compulsive eating in an attempt to cope. 

    Symptoms of Binge Eating

    Some of the behavioral symptoms of binge eating are an inability to stop eating or to control what you eat, rapidly eating great amounts of food, eating despite feeling full, and hiding food to eat at a later time when you are by yourself.

    Emotional symptoms of binge eating include relief from stress through eating, embarrassment over how much food you have consumed, dissatisfaction regardless of how much you eat, and feelings of disgust and guilt after overeating. 

    Food Addiction

    Food addiction is a somewhat controversial term used to define the effect that junk foods or foods that contain sugar or wheat have on the reward centers in the brain. Studies have shown that obese people who do not have a drug or alcohol problem but binge on dense carbohydrates have the same D2 dopamine gene marker as alcoholics and drug addicts. In addition, PET scans have shown that binge eating obese people have the same brain image problems as alcoholics and drug addicts. Such findings lend support to the contention that food addition is a biochemical dependency on food. 

    Symptoms of Food Addiction

    Some symptoms of food addiction are frequent cravings for particular foods despite feeling full, eating more than you intended to, eating to the point of feeling stuffed, feelings of guilt after eating particular foods, attempts to hide the consumption of unhealthy foods, and feeling unable to control your consumption of unhealthy foods despite the knowledge that such consumption is harmful.  

    As can be readily seen, the symptoms for binge eating disorder and food addiction are similar. Respective definitions for each disorder do distinguish them from one another though. Binge eating disorder is defined as a behavioral compulsive disorder while food addiction is defined as a biochemical dependency.  

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Published On: December 21, 2014