Binge Eating Disorder

Learn more about how to diagnose binge eating disorders. As with all eating disorders, there is certain diagnostic criteria to understand. This article looks at the origins of a binge eating disorder, complications of binge eating, and treatment for binge eaters.

Called binging, bingeing, or binge eating by some, Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a term that began to be used in 1992 as a useful way to distinguish a group of patients with an eating disorder, people who binge but do not fast or purge or use excessive exercise to compensate, are patients with bulimia. Previously used terms includ food addict and compulsive overeater.

Diagnostic Criteria

The diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder help distinguish it from overeating, which many people who have access to sufficient food do occasionally. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) specifies that a person with BED meets the following criteria:

  • Consumption of a considerably larger amount of food in a discrete period than most people would consume in similar circumstances and timeframe and concurrent feeling of loss of control over one’s eating during that period of time, with binges on at least two days a week over a period of six months.

In addition, 3 of the following 5 eating characteristics must be met:

  • extremely fast consumption of food
  • eating to the point of discomfort
  • eating a large amount with no accompanying physical feeling of hunger
  • eating alone on account of embarrassment about the amount of food one consumes
  • feelings of self-loathing, depression, or guilt after overeating

The sense of having lost control and the regular and ongoing episodes help distinguish the binge eater from the overeater. Not everyone who is overweight is a binge eater. And not everyone who is a binge eater is overweight.

It is absolutely crucial to recognize that a person who does not exactly meet these criteria may still be suffering from an eating disorder and be at risk. If you suspect that you or someone else has an eating disorder, seek assistance, even if the person does not meet all these criteria.

Facts and Statistics

Binge eating is the most common of the defined eating disorders, but since it is the most recent to be recognized, there is not a lot of statistical evidence. It is estimated to affect about 2% of the adult population of the US and although it is difficult to find separate binge eating statistics for teens, 3 -6% of girls in middle school and 2 -13% of girls in high school are estimated to have an eating disorder other than anorexia nervosa or bulimia, and that would include binge eating disorder. In addition to being the most prevalent eating disorder, it is the one with the highest representation among men and boys, with 35% of its sufferers thought to be male.

Binge eating disorder is most common in people who are severely obese, but around 10 -15% of people who are mildly obese have BED.

Origins of Binge Eating

The causes of binge eating disorder seem to be multi-faceted. There is a genetic link, and binge eating may be an escape for some people, who are susceptible to an addictive cycle in which food supplies emotional relief for their problems. Use of food for emotional support can begin in childhood if parents use food as reward and/or pacification in addition to sustenance. So it is not surprising that for some people, episodes are triggered by strong emotions such as depression, anger, grief, worry, or anxiety, as well as by stress. Some women are more susceptible for developing binge eating disorder during pregnancy. Some people binge eat after dieting, possibly in response to trying to limit carbohydrates too much and creating a situation of ongoing extreme hunger.

Related Issues and Complications

People who have binge eating disorder and are also obese may have psychological illnesses ranging from anxiety to depression to personality disorders, insomnia, and chronic pain. Alcohol abuse, impulsivity, and feeling out of control are also connected. Physical ailments that may develop with Binge Eating Disorder include:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • malnutrition
  • type 2 diabetes
  • depression
  • gallbladder disease
  • cancer

Treatment of Binge Eating

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the psychotherapy approach preferred for treatment of underlying issues causing binge eating disorder, although other types of therapy are used as well. Antidepressants and appetite suppressants, as well as gastric bypass surgery may also be used, depending on the patient’s needs.


Related Article: Causes of Teen Eating Disorders >>