Monday, June 10, 2013

Go Big or Go Home: Binge Eating Comes To The DSM-V (Part Two)

In Part One of this series, a brief overview of the new DSM-V manual’s latest addition of binge eating was addressed.  In this second part, some causes and solutions will be discussed

Binge eating can be liked to several environmental and personal factors.  It is usually a combination of genetics, emotions with response to stress, and life experiences that may cause it to develop.

The hypothalamus in the brain controls appetite and in some people with binge eating, their hypothalamus may not be able to transmit messages  of hunger and fullness.  Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is involved in brain chemistry and mental health my play a role as food can stimulate serotonin (which is why we experience a pleasurable experience when eating or exercising as they are both important to survival on a basic level).

Certain environmental factors may trigger people to overeat, from society’s impression of beauty and what is acceptable for physical appearance to pressure from parents to certain sports (ex: gymnastics, cheerleading, wrestling) as young populations are a primary target for this condition.  Additional factors can include sexual abuse and other trauma.  Because food can elicit a response of serotonin from the body (ever have a bowl of macaroni and cheese after a bad day?), food is an easy tool for providing comfort and it can be easy to control (like a trip to the office vending machine for Oreos after a terrible work review or a pint of Ben and Jerry’s for the brokenhearted college student). 

Emotional Eating & Binge Eating

Emotional eating is using food to cope and comfort, it rarely fills the real emotion need: attention, appreciation, etc. but continues to act as a mask for the real issues at hand (potentially depression, stress, past-emotional trauma).

The following was excerpted  from “Emotional Eating: How to Recognize and Stop Emotional Eating,”:

The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger
Before you can break free from the cycle of emotional eating, you first need to learn how to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. This can be trickier than it sounds, especially if you regularly use food to deal with your feelings.
Emotional hunger can be powerful. As a result, it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for that can help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.
  • Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).
  • Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves fatty foods or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.
  • Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire pint of ice cream without really paying attention or fully enjoying it. When you’re eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware of what you’re doing.
  • Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn't need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.
  • Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.
  • Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it's likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.
 Gina Lesako RD, LD is the SCAN blog coordinator, those interested in writing for SCAN can email her directly at  (Resolve to increase your online exposure in 2013!)

She can also be found blogging at  Find her on SCAN: