Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting an estimated 3.5% of women, 2% of men and 1.6% of adolescents. It is characterized by recurring instances of binge eating, which can be described as eating large amounts of food in a short period of time accompanied by a loss of control. Binge eating occurs, on average, at least once per week for at least three months. Unlike anorexia and bulimia, people suffering with BED do not engage in purging or compensatory behaviors, such as throwing up or exercising intensely to counter the food eaten. BED is a serious disorder with devastating emotional, physical, and social consequences. It has been officially recognized as a formal eating disorder diagnosis in the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), allowing sufferers to finally get the attention and treatment they deserve.
A tremendous amount of guilt, shame and embarrassment can be experienced by individuals with BED, so it can often be difficult to detect. Below is a list of common characteristics of binge eating disorder:
Eating unusually large quantities of food in a relatively short period of time and feeling out of control with food
Eating more quickly than normal
Eating large amounts when not physically hungry
Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortably full
Feeling sad, guilty or disgusted after eating
Being secretive about behaviors or eating alone due to embarrassment about amount of food
Feeling sad about body or weight
Feeling sad, anxious or significantly distressed about binge eating
Although binge eating disorder can be present in individuals who are of average weight, up to two thirds of people with BED can have the potential life-threatening medical complications associated with obesity. Below is a list of medical consequences:
Excessive weight gain
High blood pressure and cholesterol
Type 2 diabetes
Several factors are believed to play a role in the development of BED. Some of these may include:
Emotional factors, such as depression or anxiety
Cultural and societal factors, such as experiences with weight stigma or associating food with emotional comfort
Interpersonal factors, such as stress within family or other significant relationships
The factors that contribute to the development of BED will certainly vary from person to person and are worth exploring when an individual seeks treatment.
With BED, food becomes a way to cope with, soothe or process emotions. A binge episode is followed by intense feelings of guilt or shame, and this can lead to more binge eating, resulting in a painful cycle. Individuals struggling with binge eating disorder often experience a significant amount of emotional distress and are at greater risk for suicide. They report a lower quality of life than those without BED and also have higher levels of anxiety and depression. For most people suffering with binge eating disorder, treatment is necessary for recovery.
The binge eating recovery program at our Hamptons, NY treatment facility usually involves psychotherapy or counseling, which might include individual, family, or group therapy. Due to the high incidence of co-occurring depression and anxiety, effective treatment addresses both BED and any co-occurring mood symptoms. Treatment requires a collaboration of skilled eating disorder specialists, such as a dietitian, therapist, medical doctor. Making the decision to seek treatment can be difficult, but healing is possible with the help of a compassionate team of professionals.