In the United States, at least 9% of the population has an eating disorder. Historically, research into eating disorders included anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and eating disorders non-specified. Binge eating hasn’t been included in much of the research until recently because it hadn’t been a recognized disorder.
What Is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is a serious and life-threatening condition. Someone with a disorder displays eating behaviors that negatively impact physical, psychological and social well-being. These behaviors are persistent, and they are often associated with emotional distress. Many people who have an eating disorder also have issues with:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Alcohol abuse
- Drug addiction
People can have a genetic predisposition to an eating disorder, but it also occurs in individuals who don’t have any family members with the condition.
Is Binge Eating a Disorder?
Yes. Binge eating is now an official disorder, but before 2013, it had not been. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the official book of recognized and diagnosable psychological disorders. It wasn’t until the most recent version, the DSM-V, that binge eating was included as an eating disorder.
What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
This condition is characterized by consistent behavioral patterns of eating excessive quantities of food. Often, when people with BED experience an episode, they eat very quickly and feel a loss of control over their eating during the episode. Binge eating usually occurs within a short window of time, generally two hours or less, rather than over the course of a day. To be diagnosed with BED, you have to demonstrate three of the following:
- Eating more quickly than would be considered normal
- Eating past the point of satiation
- Eating a lot of food even when you aren’t hungry
- Eating alone because you are embarrassed by your eating habits
- Feeling guilt, disgust or depression following an episode
You also have to display these characteristics at least once a week and for at least three months. Like other eating disorders, BED is often associated with other psychological issues, such as anxiety and depression.
Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms
There are numerous potential symptoms of binge eating disorder. These can be classified into three categories: Emotional, behavior and physical.
Emotional symptoms include:
- Discomfort eating around others and fear of eating in public places
- Overly concerned with body image and weight
- Feeling a lack of control when eating and inability to stop
- Feeling disgusted, guilty or depressed after eating
- Low self-esteem
Behavioral symptoms include:
- Avoidance of eating around others
- Engaging in food rituals
- Consuming large amounts of food within a short window of time
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Hoarding food and hiding it in unusual places
- Stealing food
- Frequent dieting
Physical symptoms include:
- Rapid and noticeable weight changes, cycling through loss and gain
- Inability to concentrate well
- Cramping in the stomach
- Gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux and constipation
You do not need all of these symptoms to be diagnosed with BED.
Binge Eating Disorder Consequences
A binge eating episode can lead to a stomach rupture, which is a medical emergency. Overeating before bed can lead to sleep problems, and long-term sleep deprivation is associated with other health issues. People with BED are also more likely to develop obesity, though they are two different conditions. Obesity has detrimental health effects and is linked to Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and heart disease.
Binge Eating Disorder Prevalence
This condition has a high prevalence in the United States and is the most common eating disorder among Americans. Approximately 2% of adult males and 3.5% of adult females in this country have the disorder. Men are more likely to develop BED between the ages of 45 and 59. On the other hand, women often get it when they are in their early adult years, between the ages of 18 and 29. Teenagers can also develop binge eating disorder, and it affects almost 2% of the teen population.
Anyone can have a binge eating episode at some point in their lives, but it isn’t considered a disorder until it meets the DSM-V criteria. You are more likely to develop the condition if you are already overweight, particularly if you are obese, but not everyone who is overweight or obese has BED. People who have had adverse childhood experiences surrounding weight and body perceptions are also more likely to develop the disorder.
Is Binge Eating the Same as Bulimia?
While binge eating shares overeating symptoms with bulimia, it is a different condition. The primary difference between the two eating disorders is that people with bulimia purge their food after they overeat. This is not a characterization of BED.
Is Binge Eating an Addiction?
Binge eating and addiction share some common traits, including feelings of loss of control and continued engagement with the behavior despite the negative consequences. Binge eating may be associated with food addictions, with overlapping causes and symptoms, but they are not necessarily the same.
Can You Get Over Binge Eating Disorder?
Yes! Like other emotionally based issues, even those with a physiological component, you can overcome BED with the right tools and support. By using your brain’s trigger-behavior-reward system, you can change your perceptions about eating and rewire your brain for a healthier response to food. You can’t will yourself to change your eating habits, but you can use mindfulness techniques to target rewards-based learning.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your awareness on what is happening in the present moment, noticing the physical and emotional feelings of a particular behavior — in this case, eating. Through this awareness, you can begin to understand your overeating triggers and your body’s response to food and eating. This approach helps you develop a more positive relationship with food that cultivates intrinsic rewards, such as good health and self-compassion, rather than extrinsic rewards, such as looks or weight.
The Eat Right Now program provides you with the tools and support you need to break free from the habit loop and change your relationship with your emotions and food. You’ll learn how to create healthy eating habits and develop emotional resilience. Getting started is easy. Sign up today!