Binge eating is when someone eats an excessive amount of food and feels out of control while doing so. Binge eating is common among college students, and many students report that they binge eat to cope with stress or other negative emotions. Eating, generally speaking, is a pleasurable experience because it causes dopamine to be released in the reward pathway of the brain, in a similar way that drugs act on the brain, but on a much smaller scale.
Even though food can help us feel better, binge eating is an unhealthy coping skill. It is considered an unhealthy skill because in the long run it can lead to negative emotions like shame or depression, psychological problems, like an eating disorder or another mental disorder, or to physical problems, including cardiovascular problems, diabetes, or other gastrointestinal problems. Research also indicates that people who lack more adaptive emotion regulation skills are at greater risk for using binge eating as a coping skill.
Some signs of students who are struggling with binge eating, include:
- Eating in secret
- Hiding food
- Continuously eating or “grazing” without feeling satisfied
- Feeling many negative emotions after eating large amounts of food
- Feeling out of control when eating
Lots of college students struggle with using unhealthy coping skills when they are feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, or other negative emotions. Binge eating, along with binge drinking, self-harm, avoidance and withdrawal, or physical aggression, are all considered unhealthy or unhelpful coping strategies because they may help you feel better in the moment, but in the long run they lead to even greater problems or physical harm. If you are worried about yourself or a friend who is struggling with any of these problems, its ok to ask for help. Talk to your RA, or consider scheduling an appointment at the Student Counseling Center.