Binge Eating and the College Woman

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binge eating college womanWhen we think of binge eating, we usually think of someone who struggles with weight.  But studies show that many “normal weight” people, especially college women, are binge eaters. So how do we know if we or our daughters are binge eaters? And why do we care if it doesn’t lead to obesity?

Defining Binge Eating

According to psychological criteria, binge eating is characterized by:

  • eating amounts of food larger than most people would consider normal within a 2-hour period
  • a sense of loss of control during these eating periods, and
  • at least three of the following symptoms:
    • eating much more rapidly than normal
    • eating until uncomfortably full
    • eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
    • eating alone because of embarrassment about the quantity of food being eaten
    • feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or guilty after eating

If a person purges or excessively exercises after such an eating episode, bulimia may be the problem, which is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by vomiting or exercising to ‘get rid’ of the calories.

Consequences of Binge Eating in the College Woman

Even though studies show many binge eating college women don’t struggle with weight, the fact is that many more do. And the longer binge eating occurs, the more likely we are to gain unhealthful weight as a result. Unhealthful weight can increase risk for a variety of problems including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even some types of cancer.

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Very different from the occasional overeating episode, which is part of normal eating, binge eating has psychological consequences also. People with binge eating disorder may also become depressed; research shows they report more problems with stress, trouble sleeping and more suicidal thoughts than people without eating disorders. Binge eaters often feel badly about themselves and isolate themselves to binge eat, missing work, school and social activities.

Treating Binge Eating in the College Woman

young-college-women-weight-loss-programBinge eating is usually considered as a coping strategy gone wrong. That is, it’s something a person engages in to help herself manage a problem such as stress, poor body image or the like. Food serves as a source of comfort; large amounts of food may be used to “bury” uncomfortable feelings.

Goals of treatment for binge eating include:

  • Identifying thinking distortions, including all or nothing thinking and perfectionism
  • Reconnecting with the body and feelings, including hunger cues to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger
  • Improving body image and self esteem
  • Learning self-care

The self-help book Overcoming Binge Eating by Dr. Christopher Fairburn lists steps to stop binge eating. If these steps don’t work for you or your loved one, seek professional help; read more about Treatment For Binge Eating Disorders. Binge eating in the college woman can be overcome.

Our Young Women’s program can help college-age women stop binge eating and lead healthy lifestyles in the college setting.

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