Binge-eating disorder, or BED, is a type of eating disorder that is characterized by recurring episodes of consuming large quantities of food in a given time period, referred to as binging, and feeling incapable of controlling one’s food intake while in the midst of a binge. Also sometimes referred to as compulsive overeating, binge-eating disorder is the most common form of eating disorder in the United States.
The symptoms of binge-eating disorder are far more serious and persistent that the occasional episodes of overeating that most people will experience from time to time. For example, to be diagnosed with binge-eating disorder, a person must engage in an average of one eating binge every week for a period of at least three months.
In addition to persistently consuming a significantly larger amount of food than most people would eat at one time and feeling out of control while doing so, a person must experience at least three of the following criteria in order to be diagnosed with binge-eating disorder:
- Eating much more quickly than is considered normal
- Eating to the point of experiencing discomfort
- Eating large amounts of food even when not feeling hungry
- Eating alone or in secret due to shame about one’s eating habits
- Feeling ashamed, disgusted, guilty, or depressed in the aftermath of an eating binge
Also, for a diagnosis of binge-eating disorder, the individual must not engage in unhealthy compensatory behaviors, often referred to as a purge, following their binges. People who purge following an eating binge may be exhibiting symptoms of bulimia nervosa.
Experts estimate that between 1% and 5% of the U.S. population exhibit behaviors that are consistent with a diagnosis of binge-eating disorder. According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), the number of people who have binge-eating disorder is larger than the combined total of individuals who suffer from anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
Binge-eating disorder affects more than twice as many women as men, with one study indicating that about 3.5% of females and 2% of males over the age of 12 have BED. About 70% of people with binge-eating disorder also meet the clinical standard for obesity, and studies suggest that about 40% of people who seek professional weight loss treatment are suffering from BED.
Causes and Risk Factors for Binge-Eating Disorder
Experts believe that binge-eating disorder and other eating disorders develop as a result of a combination of factors, including both internal/genetic and external/environmental influences. The following are among the issues that may increase the likelihood that a person will develop binge-eating disorder:
Genetics: Studies suggest that a predisposition for binge-eating disorder may be an inheritable trait. Individuals whose parents or siblings have struggled with BED or another form of eating disorder are at increased risk for developing a similar condition. Also, people with a family history of mental illness are more likely to develop BED than are individuals whose close family members have not experienced mental health problems. Researchers are also investigating the theory that brain chemistry abnormalities may be to blame for a person’s inability to control his or her desire for food, as well as his or her ability to control food intake.
Environmental: Exposure to stresses and pressures can increase the likelihood that a person will develop BED, as many people turn to food as a means of coping with or numbing themselves to the impact of chronic or acute stress. Trauma can also trigger unhealthy eating practices, which may develop into binge-eating disorder. The presence of binge-eating disorder in one’s family can be an environmental factor as well as a genetic influence, as a person who is exposed to disordered eating habits during his or her formative years may emulate these behaviors either during childhood or later in life.
- Family history of BED or other eating disorders
- Family history of mental illness
- Personal history of mental illness
- Gender (women are about twice as likely as men to suffer from BED)
- Age (binge-eating disorder most often begins during the late teens and early 20s)
- Having been abused or neglected as a child
- Having been physically attacked, sexually assaulted, or otherwise violently victimized
- History of trying extreme, highly restrictive, and other dangerous dieting
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Poor coping skills
- Low self-esteem and/or poor self-image
Signs and Symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder
Though a person must meet certain specific criteria in order to be diagnosed with binge-eating disorder, the disorder may manifest via a variety of both obvious and more subtle symptoms. While the appearance of binge-eating disorder may vary from person to person, the following are among the common symptoms of this disorder:
- Eating large quantities of food
- Eating extremely quickly
- Eating alone
- Eating even when not hungry
- Eating until one feels uncomfortably full
- Hiding food in one’s house, office, car, or other locations
- Repeatedly trying and failing to control one’s weight via fad or extreme diets
- Lying or being otherwise deceptive about one’s eating habits
- Weight gain, to the point of becoming overweight or obese
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Weight-related musculoskeletal problems
- Heart problems
- Having difficulty walking or engaging in various forms of physical activity
- Impulse control problems
- “Zoning out” during eating binges
- Memory disturbances
- Concentration difficulties
- Low self-esteem
- Poor self-worth
- Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
- Social withdrawal and avoidance
- Experiencing feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing after eating binges
Effects of Binge-Eating Disorder
Untreated binge-eating disorder can lead to a number of negative physical, mental, emotional, and social effects. The following are among the many problems that can result when a person has binge-eating disorder but does not get the professional attention that he or she needs:
- Becoming overweight
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Kidney problems, including potential kidney failure
- Irregular menstruation
- Withdrawal and self-isolation
- Problems within interpersonal relationships
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Decreased performance in school or at work
- Significant decline in quality of life
- Suicidal ideation and attempts at committing suicide
Many people who develop binge-eating disorder are also struggling with one or more additional mental health issues. The following are among the co-occurring disorders that are most likely to be experienced by a person who has also developed binge-eating disorder:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Major depressive disorder
- Persistent depressive disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorders
Treatment for Binge-Eating Disorder
Binge-eating disorder is a serious condition that, if left untreated, can cause myriad problems and have a drastically negative impact on the quality of person’s life. With effective professional intervention, though, individuals who have been struggling with binge-eating disorder can learn how to regain control over their behaviors and live much happier, healthier, and more satisfying lives. The key to overcoming binge-eating disorder is finding the program that is best prepared to treat not only the binge-eating symptoms, but also the underlying issues and co-occurring disorders that may have led to or otherwise impacted the BED.
For many people with binge-eating disorder, the most effective solutions are found through residential treatment at programs such as those offered through Harmony Point Treatment Centers. First, residential treatment programs remove patients from the negative stresses, pressures, and triggers that may have been fueling their disorders and provide them with secure and supportive environments in which to heal. Within this nurturing environment, individuals who have been struggling with binge-eating disorder have the opportunity to work with dedicated professionals who have specific experience in dealing with the unique challenges of binge-eating disorder.
At Harmony Point Treatment Centers, adolescents and adults who have been struggling with binge-eating disorder can receive comprehensive treatment that has been customized to meet their unique needs. Experts have identified a wide range of treatment options for individuals who have been diagnosed with binge-eating disorder. Depending upon the strengths and needs of the individual patient, treatment at Harmony Point Treatment Centers may involve cognitive and behavioral therapies, nutritional counseling, psychoeducational groups, medical support, recreational therapeutic activities, and similar experiences.
When an adolescent or adult chooses to heal at Harmony Point Treatment Centers, he or she will receive quality professional care that will identify and address the physical, mental, and emotional issues that have been causing such significant problems. Most importantly, he or she will have the opportunity to develop the skills and strategies that will promote lifelong recovery and allow him or her to pursue a much healthier and happier future.