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Binge Eating Disorder: Definition, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Between the constant bombardment of “perfect body” images in the media and on social media and the stress of an increasingly fast-paced world, we find ourselves facing a serious problem. The rate at which eating disorders are being diagnosed is on the rise, and the trend is nowhere near over. 

Binge eating disorder is a serious eating disorder that affects two percent of people worldwide. It’s characterized by recurrent binge-eating episodes in which the person compulsively overeats while feeling unable to stop and without control. 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), Binge Eating Disorders (BED) include:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating characterized by: 
  1. Eating a larger amount of food in a short period of time (two hours, for example) than most people would eat during that time
  2. Feeling a lack of control during the episode over what they eat or how much they eat 
  • The binge-eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:
  1. Eating more quickly than usual
  2. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  3. Eating large amounts of food when not feeling hungry
  4. Eating alone because of embarrassment about how much one is eating 
  5. Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed afterward

The person also feels distressed while eating, and the episodes have to occur on average once per week or more for at least three months in order to be considered a binge eating disorder. 

It should also be noted that weight or appearance has absolutely no part in the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorders.

Because binge eating disorder affects a person’s eating habits, food-related behaviors, rather than weight or appearance, are warning signs for the condition. People with a normal BMI can be diagnosed with binge eating disorder as well. 

Here are some of the signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder: 

  • Eating large amounts of food in a specific period of time 
  • Feeling uncomfortable eating around others
  • Feeling out of control, specifically regarding what and how much you eat
  • Eating very quickly during binge episodes
  • Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, disgusted, or depressed about your eating 
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape
  • Developing food rituals, such as eating only a particular food, not allowing foods to touch, or excessive chewing 
  • Creating lifestyle schedules around binge eating episodes
  • Frequent dieting
  • Fluctuations in weight 

The causes of binge eating disorder are unknown, but there are several factors that increase your risk: 

  • Sex — Binge eating disorders are more common in women than in men. 
  • Age — Although binge eating disorders can develop at any age, it often begins in the late teens or early 20s. 
  • Family history — People who have had a parent or sibling with binge eating disorder are at a higher risk of developing it themselves. 
  • Dieting — Many people who develop binge eating disorder have dieted in the past. Calorie restriction may be a trigger for some people.
  • Psychological issues — It’s common for binge eating disorder to occur in people who have depression, anxiety, poor body self-image, or major stress.

Binge eating disorder is treated by mental health professionals that specialize in eating disorders, including psychiatrists, nutritionists, and therapists. It’s generally treated on an outpatient basis unless it is accompanied by self-harm, suicidal ideation, or substance abuse. 

Usually, a combination of therapies is used, such as consultation with a nutritionist paired with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

People with binge eating disorder who are triggered by family dynamics may benefit from family therapy to help improve communication between family members. 

It is important to focus on the emotional triggers that cause binge eating. With proper guidance from doctor and support, it’s possible to learn how to cope with stress, depression, or anxiety in a healthy way. 

There are physical and psychological repercussions to binge eating, including:

  • Obesity
  • Medical complications related to obesity, i.e., diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or sleep apnea
  • Poor quality of life
  • Social isolation
  • Limited functioning professionally, socially, and in your personal life

A few psychiatric disorders have been linked to binge eating disorder, including: 

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Substance use disorders

Although there is no sure way to prevent binge eating disorder, there are a few things you can do to manage and prevent binge eating episodes. 

  • Find support. Whether it’s a best friend, a therapist, or a support group, having people who are aware of your condition and who support you is very important. Lean on your social support during times of high stress or when you are exposed to a trigger. 
  • Keep a diary. Record your moods and the foods you eat each day. You may start to see a pattern and may learn how to identify triggers and control binge impulses. 
  • Keep healthy foods around. Have healthy snacks available for when you feel an urge to eat. By the same token, get rid of unhealthy foods and make them less accessible. 
  • Practice mindful eating. Involving your five senses and being present while eating can help you to eat less. 
  • Exercise. Exercise can help you improve body image, reduce anxiety, and boost your overall mood
  • Get enough sleep. When you sleep less, you eat more. Studies show that lack of sleep is directly related to increased calorie intake, so make sure you get 7–8 hours per night.

If you think you may have binge eating disorder, make an appointment with your health care provider. Fortunately, there are many treatments and therapies out there to help you regain control of your eating habits. Steer clear of toxic relationships and people in your life who are triggers for you. Instead, surround yourself with supportive and respectful people who will help you on your road to recovery.  





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