Nearly everyone has experienced eating to excess. Holiday meals are a good example of times when we have seconds, thirds and so on until we experience feelings of discomfort due to overeating. For some people, this practice extends beyond the occasional holiday meal to a frequent pattern of behavior that spirals out of control. This condition is referred to as Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and is more common than bulimia nervosa or other eating disorders (Adis Medical Writers, 2015). If gone untreated, binge eating disorder can result in serious physical, emotional or even fatal consequences.
Who is at risk?
BED is a medical condition that affects approximately 4 million Americans. Women make up 60% of those diagnosed. The disorder can touch any age; however, it typically begins in the late teen years and early twenties.
What are the symptoms?
It is common for BED sufferers to eat alone or to hide their eating behaviors. Other symptoms include eating quickly, binging without hunger cues or skipping meals then binging at the next meal. Studies suggest that individuals with BED could have difficulties with impulse control in other areas of their lives. Individuals may be using food to “medicate” as a form of coping with life stressors which inhibits their ability to manage their food intake. Depression plagues about half of the individuals who seek treatment for BED. There is ongoing research looking at how the genetics of brain chemistry and metabolism play a role in this disorder.
How is it diagnosed?
The 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V) classifies binge eating disorder (BED) as a mental health disorder similar to that of other eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa. It defines binge eating disorder as “recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control” (5th ed., text rev.; DSM-V-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2013). These events are accompanied by feelings of distress, being out of control, guilt, embarrassment, and disgust. According to the DSM-V, what sets binge eating disorder apart from overindulging or situational food binging is the recurring episodes of binging at least once a week over a three-month period with a distinct feeling of distress.
What is the treatment?
There are treatments for those with BED. However, dieting is not the answer and can complicate the disorder. Individuals concerned that they may suffer from BED should seek help with a mental health professional for a medical diagnosis and prescribed treatment strategies.
Typically, a combination of psychotherapy and nutritional counseling are recommended for the treatment of BED. Individual and/or group sessions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have been proven effective in helping people overcome this disorder (Adis Medical Writers, 2015). Antidepressants or other drug therapies are also commonly used during treatment for BED.
Staying connected with family and loved ones for support is very important during the recovery. Contacting professionals in the medical and mental health fields are key to returning to a state of health and well-being. For more information about BED check the Women’s Health website (www.womenshealth.gov).
- Adis Medical Writers, (2015). Is there a clear winner in the pharmacological management of binge eating disorder? Drugs & Therapy Perspectives, 196–200.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2103) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. (2013). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Binge eating disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2015, from MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003265.htm
- Binge eating fact sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved August 2, 2023, from Women’s Health: womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder
- Binge-eating disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2015, from Mayo Clinic: mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions