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Why Do I Binge Eat in Winter?
Winter can be a challenging season for many people. It’s not surprising that with less sunshine, and more time spent indoors, people may be left feeling depressed, lonely, or bored. Binge eating may be one way to cope with this.
What is Binge Eating?
A binge is different than overeating. Everyone overeats from time to time. A binge is when someone eats a portion size that is considerably larger than what most people would eat in the same amount of time. Some people may binge and not have Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
Even if you don’t meet the full criteria for BED, binging is something to be aware of because it can be a reflection of underlying emotional issues.
What is Binge Eating Disorder?
BED is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating. According to the National Eating Disorders Association there are certain symptoms that must be present in order to be diagnosed with BED. These are:
- Ongoing episodes of binge eating
- Binge eating episodes have at least three or more of these symptoms:
- Eating more rapidly than normal
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Earing large amounts of food even when not physically hungry
- Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much is being eaten
- Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty afterwards
- Binge eating occurs at least once a week for three months
- Significant emotional distress related to binge eating
How is Seasonal Affective Disorder Linked to Binge Eating?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression. SAD is a type of depression that happens when someone experiences mood changes that start and end as the season changes. It is most likely to start during fall or early winter and end when spring or summer starts .
The symptoms of SAD share of the symptoms for depression. These include :
- Feeling depressed most of the day
- Losing interest in activities that used to be fun or pleasurable
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Problems falling or staying asleep
- Sleeping too much
- Being low energy
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
While these symptoms overlap with other depressive disorders, there are some symptoms that are most common in people experiencing SAD. These are :
- Weight gain
- Social withdrawal
While overeating is a common symptom of SAD, it’s also possible for someone to experience SAD and Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
How Do I Cope With Urges to Binge?
It’s important if you have symptoms of SAD or BED to get treatment. However, there are coping skills that can be helpful for coping with urges to binge eat. Here are some suggestions for coping with the depressive symptoms and binge eating:
- Find Support. Turn to your support system. It can be a friend, family member, or therapist. Having a safe space to talk about your feelings can help you work through difficult feelings.
- Find Distractions: Distractions can be an effective skill when learning to stop engaging in a harmful behavior. If you are noticing that you have urges to binge, distracting yourself until the urge passes can be helpful. Examples of distractions could be watching a movie, calling a friend, or playing video games.
- Spend Time Outside: Sunshine can boost mood . Spending time outside, whether it’s taking a walk, playing sports, or any other enjoyable outdoors activity can help improve depressive symptoms.
- Journal: Journaling is a way to get your feelings out. There are different ways to journal. Whether you want to write, draw, paint… there are so many ways to communicate feelings. Find a way that works for you and put feelings to paper. It can be a relief.
- Identify Triggers: A trigger is something that brings up the urge to binge. Triggers can be different for each person. For example, someone may want to binge to soothe feelings of stress or loneliness. If you can think back to the last few times you binged and figure out what feelings were going on beforehand, that can be a powerful indicator of what emotions you may need help coping with. Finding coping skills for these upsetting emotions can help prevent binges in the future.
If you are struggling with disordered eating, it’s important to get help. Many eating disorder treatment centers can provide treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions, such as seasonal affective disorder. You can locate a treatment provider using this tool.
References: National Institute of Mental Health. Seasonal Affective Disorder. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder  National Eating Disorders Association. Binge Eating Disorder. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/bed
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published February 9, 2022 on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on February 9, 2022, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC