Binge Eating Disorder (BED) affects an estimated three and a half percent of women and two percent of men, which makes it the most common eating disorder in America. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of men and women who are currently seeking methods to lose weight are actually suffering from some form of BED. BED has also been referred to as compulsive overeating.
People of all ages, socio-economic statuses and races can suffer from BED which is characterized by frequent sessions of binge eating where the sufferer feels very out of control and ashamed. These uncontrolled eating episodes often lead to intense and disturbing feelings of guilt and depression. Currently the exact causes of BED are not known, however potential factors include; a history of dieting, genetics, trauma, depression and anxiety. Additionally, there is evidence that being the subject of weight stigma (discrimination based on one’s weight) causes people to binge eat.
Bingeing, or the episodes in which the sufferer is eating a vast quantity of food, usually revolves around types of foods which are very high in things like sugar and fat, but that are relatively low in real nutrient value. The low nutrient value of sugar rich foods means that the consumer’s body continues to require additional consumption of foods in order to feel fulfilled. Because of this, people with BED can gain weight and look overweight or even obese but remain undernourished as the foods that they are consuming are low in amounts of essential minerals and vitamins.
According to the DSM-5, the official manual used by mental health professionals, the behavioral and emotional criteria that characterize BED include:
- Frequent binge episodes that happen at least once every week for three months or more
- During a binge, eating a much larger amount of food than what is considered to be normal within a two hour period
- Inability to control what is being eaten or to stop eating
The binges are also characterized by some of the following:
- Eating to the point of discomfort
- Eating when not hungry
- Eating very fast
- Eating in private out of embarrassment
- Feeling guilty or shameful
Sufferers also often feel very distressed about their inability to control their food intake, however a person with BED does not usually over-exercise or purge after binging as a person with bulimia nervosa might do.
Rigid dietary practices have been linked to a higher incidence of BED. Sufferers with a negative body image might initially restrict food and the restriction in calories may then spark a cycle of binge eating behavior.
Weight gain can be followed by increased feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness and failure.
Binge Eating Disorder is now seen as a serious medical condition which can be treated. Like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, BED can result in chronic disease and death. Treatment for BED is essential in order to help the sufferer fully recover. Treatment is often in the form of outpatient therapy, but in some cases inpatient facilities may be relevant. Treatment may take the form of individual and group counseling, nutritional counseling and psychotherapy. Alternative therapies may also be effective such as yoga, movement classes, dance, meditation and mindfulness, art and equine therapies.
Individuals who are overweight and have BED are at risk for a number of life-threatening complications such as high blood pressure, type II diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, high levels of serum cholesterol and particular types of cancer. Other possible medical complications include mobility issues, sciatica, varicose veins, hiatal hernia, trouble sleeping and shortness of breath. Due to the severity of such complications, BED should not go untreated.
Recovery is typically an ongoing lifelong process for most sufferers. As with any eating disorder there are many complicated and influencing factors involved. However, despite the complexity, BED is treatable and can be overcome with the right interventions. Evidence based forms of treatment for BED include mindfulness based interventions, cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy and psychotherapy.
If you think that you may be suffering from BED, remember that you are not alone, in fact BED is the most common of all eating disorders. It is important they you tell someone and seek professional treatment.
Health at Every Size (HAES) – Information on the HAES approach to body acceptance.
Causes of Eating Disorders – What causes a person to develop an eating disorder.
Telling Someone You Have an Eating Disorder – How to take that difficult first step.
Eating Disorder Treatment – How treatment will work. The importance of treating eating disorders ASAP.
Alternatives to Bingeing – How to prevent the urge to binge.
Weight Loss Surgery and Eating Disorders – An eating disorder can complicate the potential effectiveness of bariatric surgery.
Food Addiction – Could someone be addicted to food, or are they addicted to the process of eating?
Binge Eating Facts – Additional facts about binge eating, causes, and treatment information.
What is Weight Stigma – How weight stigma can contribute to eating disorders.
Recovery From An Eating Disorder – Recovery takes time and is not easy, but its worth it.
Updated by Tabitha Farrar – 2014
Written by Colleen Thompson – 2001