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Understanding Binge Eating Disorder: What It Is, Symptoms, and Treatment

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States, yet it is often highly misunderstood or goes unrecognized due to lack of information.

Binge eating disorder is a mental health condition characterized by recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time, accompanied by a sense of lack of control. Since binge eating disorder (or any eating disorder) can significantly affect a person’s mental and physical health, it’s crucial to seek professional guidance right away if you believe you may be struggling.

Now, let’s shed some more light on what binge eating disorder is, its most common warning signs and symptoms, and how individuals can overcome it and achieve a successful, lasting recovery.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious eating disorder and mental health condition characterized by recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food, often very quickly and to the point of discomfort. During binge eating episodes, individuals typically feel a loss of control, eating when they are not physically hungry or past the point of fullness.

Unlike bulimia nervosa, individuals with binge eating disorder do not engage in regular compensatory behaviors such as purging or excessive exercise. However, binge eating episodes are usually associated with significant marked distress, including feelings of shame, guilt, disgust, or depression. Although someone can develop binge eating disorder at any age, its usual onset tends to be in someone’s late teens to early twenties.

It’s important to note that BED can affect individuals of any weight, and it is not exclusive to those who are classified as overweight or obese. It is a recognized mental health disorder that most often requires professional intervention and treatment. If you suspect you or a loved one may be struggling, take our eating disorder screener to gain a better understanding.

How Binge Eating Disorder is Diagnosed

According to the DSM-5, the criteria to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder include:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating where the individual eats, in a discrete period of time (any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is significantly larger than what most people would eat in that similar time frame and circumstance
  • During binge episodes, the individual feels a loss of control over eating (e.g., feeling that one cannot stop eating, cannot control how much they’re eating, etc.)
  • Binge eating must occur at least one day a week for at least three months
  • Significant marked distress after binge eating episodes, including feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, and depression
  • Binge eating is not associated with regular compensatory behaviors such as purging, fasting, or excessive exercise

In addition to these requirements, an individual’s binge eating episodes are typically associated with at least three (or more) of the following symptoms:

  • Eating more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until the point of uncomfortable fullness
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
  • Eating alone or in isolation out of embarrassment
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

In addition to its diagnostic criteria, there are also several common warning signs and symptoms linked to binge eating disorder which may help you gain a better understanding of the presence of the disorder. Importantly, not everyone with binge eating disorder will necessarily meet or display all of these symptoms, but the common ones include:

  • Preoccupation with food: Constantly thinking about food, planning future binges, or being preoccupied with the next opportunity to eat.
  • Eating alone: Choosing to eat alone to avoid judgment or scrutiny from others regarding the quantity of food being consumed.
  • Feelings of guilt and shame: Experiencing intense feelings of guilt, shame, or regret after binge eating episodes, often leading to a desire to conceal the behavior.
  • Rapid consumption of food: Eating rapidly during binge episodes, often without savoring or fully experiencing the taste of the food.
  • Hoarding of food: Stockpiling or hiding large quantities of food out of anticipation for future binge episodes.
  • Limited food choices: Engaging in specific food rituals or only consuming certain types of food during binge episodes.
  • Emotional triggers: Binge eating often occurs in response to emotional triggers such as stress, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, or even boredom.
  • Difficulty coping with emotions: Using food as a primary coping mechanism for dealing with emotions, and finding it challenging to express or manage emotions in healthier ways.
  • Lack of hunger awareness: Difficulty recognizing or responding to natural hunger and fullness cues.
  • Negative impact on relationships: Binge eating may lead to social withdrawal, strained relationships, or difficulties in interpersonal connections.
  • Low self-esteem: Individuals with binge eating disorder may have low self-esteem or negative body image, often exacerbated by binge eating behaviors.
  • Weight fluctuations: While individuals with BED can be at any body weight, there may be significant weight fluctuations due to binge eating episodes.

Remember: It is completely normal for people to overindulge on occasion, especially during holidays or special events, without meeting the criteria for binge eating disorder. But, if someone is consistently experiencing recurrent episodes of binge eating, accompanied by a sense of loss of control and emotional distress, we highly recommend seeking professional help for appropriate support and guidance.

Overcoming Binge Eating Disorder

Treatment for binge eating disorder is highly dependent on the individual’s unique needs, specific circumstances, and the severity of the disorder, all of which determine what types of intervention are needed.

However, treatment for binge eating disorder generally involves targeting the binge eating behaviors in some way while engaging in therapy to address the underlying motivations or triggers behind the disorder. Not only does this help individuals become educated about their condition and what may be causing it, but it also helps them employ the necessary coping skills needed to address emotional triggers when urges to binge eat arise.

Treating binge eating disorder also typically involves working with a multidisciplinary care team of healthcare professionals who are specialized or have expertise in working with individuals with eating disorders. Some members of this team may include therapists, dietitians, psychiatrists, primary care physicians, and more.

Here at VERY, our virtual eating recovery treatment helps individuals with all types of eating disorders, including binge eating disorders, receive personalized and focused outpatient care supported by a team of compassionate and specialized professionals. Our goal for all patients currently struggling or going through recovery is to finally live a life filled with purpose and meaning, free from the eating disorder.

Schedule a free consultation to learn more about how our team can help you get on the right track to a successful and lasting recovery.