Understanding Binge Eating Disorder

When people hear “eating disorder” their mind usually goes to anorexia or bulimia. And while these are serious disorders, they’re not the only ones. While some eating disorders are about an individual reducing their food intake, some are about increased food intake. In fact, around 5% of people with eating disorders suffer from binge eating disorder (BED). BED causes individuals to eat large and unhealthy quantities of food in a short time period.


What Is Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder has been around for awhile (most doctors have been recognizing it since the 1950’s), however, it has only been recently added to the DSM-5.

People with BED feel they have little control over their binges where they eat large quantities of food in short periods. Often these binges are to deal with emotional trauma or distress. Binging is common in other eating disorder, but unlike bulimic binges, people with BED don’t follow their binges with a purge.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder can be hard to identify at times. Here are a few symptoms that a psychiatrist looks for to diagnosis it.

Recurrent episodes of binge eating (weekly) are cause for concern. Everyone over eats occasionally, but if it is happening regularly this could be a symptom of BED. Often the food eaten during these binging episodes is extremely unhealthy. Yes, eating an entire box of cookies isn’t healthy but that likely wouldn’t be considered BED. People with binge eating disorder consume thousands of calories in short periods of time. It’s not just one box they go through- it’s multiple.

As you might guess, people with BED continue to eat past the point of fullness or when they aren’t hungry. They also eat more rapidly than normal. People with BED may not even taste the food they are eating or be so consumed with eating as quickly as possible that they miss out on other sensations of eating.

Shame and guilt are common feelings people with BED feel after a binge episode. They may only do it when others aren’t around or hide the evidence. This is to limit the amount of shame and humiliation they feel.

If binge eating is followed by purging or caloric restrictions than anorexia or bulimia may be a more appropriate diagnosis. Diagnosing an eating disorder can be difficult since many share the same symptoms. That is why it’s important to get professional help so that you treat the right illness.


Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

The world we live in is centered on food. From highly saturated food marketing campaigns to the “foodie” movement, it’s everywhere. Unfortunately, this type of environment can be extremely triggering to people who suffer from binge eating disorder. Most research into eating disorders has focused on anorexia and bulimia, but researchers are starting to figure out what exactly causes BED. Here are a few potential causes.

Psychological disorders and stress may cause BED. People cope with stress by eating, so at high-stress times or when a mental health issue is left untreated, people may turn to food for comfort.

Rigid diet practices may also be a cause. Our culture is very hypocritical. We get blasted with food advertisements yet we devalue people who aren’t thin or fit. Many people, especially women, are constantly trying to diet and lose weight to fit into this ideal mold. Research shows that restrictive diets cause some people to react with binge eating.

Age and gender play a role in BED. Women are more likely to develop BED, although unlike other eating disorders men have a much higher percentage. Most people with BED are in their 40’s or 50’s which distinguishes it from other eating disorders which are most common in young women.

Biology and genetics are also likely factors in an individual developing BED. Brain chemistry, genetic, family history, and other similar factors may increase one’s likelihood of developing it.


Dangers of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder poses serious health risks. Weight is the most obvious danger with this disorder. Frequent bingers are at risk for gaining large quantities of weight, which increased their risk for other ailments such as osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, cardiovascular issues, and other. Because guilt and shame are often felt, people with BED may also develop low self-esteem, self-hatred, or depression.

The weight gain many people with BED experience causes secondary consequences as well. Research has shown that society discriminates based on weight. Overweight people may get fewer or lower job offers, are vulnerable to bullying, and may not get adequate health care.


Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

The good news is that like other eating disorders, binge eating disorder is treatable. The treatment for BED is similar to other protocols of eating disorders. The first step is to ensure stability with any health problems. For example, if a person with BED has diabetes, it’s important to treat that before treating the BED.

Individual therapy has proven to be highly effective in treating BED. Therapy works to uncover the reasons behind the binging as well as providing tools for coping with food cravings and emotional distress. In addition to therapy, some psychiatrists recommend medication.

Contact us today to take control over your binge eating disorder. We are more than happy to help you take your life back.

Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez

Dr. Raul Rodriguez