You might have heard of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (characterized by weight loss) and bulimia nervosa (binge eating followed by purging), but you may not be aware that binge eating is classified as another type of eating disorder, which can be serious and life threatening, though treatable.
What Is It? Recently classified by psychologists as a distinct eating disorder, binge eating disorder (BED) is more common than anorexia and bulimia combined. BED is characterized solely by binge eating patterns—recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food in short periods of time—without the purging components. It can be a severe disorder, often accompanied with feelings of shame and loss of control.
What Causes It? Eating disorders, such as BED, affect many types of people and are often a combination of genetic, developmental, social, cultural, and psychological factors. BED often leads to unwanted weight gain, which reinforces further compulsive eating and negative feelings.
What to Do? Most do not realize they have BED, and even if they do, they may be apprehensive about getting help. However, treatment options do exist. The new classification of BED in the latest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) means that some insurance companies will cover eating disorder treatment with the DSM diagnosis. The most successful treatments require support, understanding, and empathetic relationships from the multidisciplinary team that works with eating disorder patients. Psychological approaches that address underlying issues around food have also been found to be helpful. If you think you or someone you know may have BED symptoms, don’t hesitate to speak with your healthcare provider.
—Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD
Defining Characteristics of BED
How do you know if you have binge eating disorder? Here are some of the classic signs:
- Eating, in a short period of time, an amount of
food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
- Feeling out of control over eating during the episode, like you cannot stop or control what or how much you are eating.
- Eating rapidly.
- Eating until you are uncomfortably full.
- Eating large amounts of food when you are not physically hungry.
- Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much you are eating.
- Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after eating.
- Binge eating episodes happen, on average, at least once a week for three months.