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Binge Eating Disorder

We’ve all eaten our feelings in response to stress at one time or another. But when behavior becomes consistent, it may be a sign of binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a recurring compulsion to overeat, often to the point of discomfort and beyond caloric needs. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders (DSM-5) added BED in 2013. The criteria for diagnosis involve: 

  • At least one episode of binging per week, with an absence of purging, excessive exercise, or fasting
  • Noticeably large amounts of food, typically consumed within the span of 2 hours
  • A lack of control over eating habits and binge episodes 


Risk Factors for Binge Eating Disorder

As the most common eating disorder in the United States, many people are at risk. Binge eating disorder is three times more common than anorexia nervosa and bulimia combined. Overall, BED does not discriminate between races, age groups, or income levels, but some groups are more at risk than others. For example, the disorder affects 3.5% of American women compared to 2% of men. However, it remains the most common eating disorder experienced among men. Women will typically experience the disordered eating around the ages of 18-29. Men are more likely to develop BED between the ages of 45-59.

One particularly common risk factor is undiagnosed mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression or complex PTSD. Without healthy coping mechanisms to manage the symptoms of these disorders, food can become a coping mechanism in much the same way alcohol or illicit substances can.

Effects of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder affects clients both psychologically and physically. Since common “binge foods” are high in carbohydrates, sugars and fats, they can cause a short-term boost in feel-good neurotransmitters, followed by depletion. Sufferers may also feel shame, guilt or depression after a binge-eating episode. Physical effects may include fatigue, anxiety and incremental weight gain. 

In the long-term, the biggest risk is obesity. People suffering from binge eating disorder may also have a higher risk of developing Type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol and sleep apnea. Moreover, they are at greater risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Bing eaters may also experience muscle and joint pain, digestive issues, depression, and an increased risk of certain cancers. Since many who suffer from BED withdraw from social settings, some develop health issues related to social isolation.


Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Although the shame experienced from binge eating disorder can result in secretive behavior, making it difficult to notice a problem, here are signs and symptoms of BED:

  • Weight fluctuations
  • Complaints of gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Excuses for eating large amounts of food
  • Noticeable discomfortable eating in front of others
  • Tendency to toward foods that are high in salt or sugar

A binge eater may also demonstrate behavior consistent with having low self-confidence, such as showing picking apart their physical flaws or withdrawing from friends and social engagements. If you notice any of these signs, it is important to seek treatment, especially if these signs accompany symptoms of a mental health disorder or recent trauma.

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Treatments for Binge Eating Disorder

Since binge eating is often associated with co-occurring mental health disorders, treatment must address a person’s whole mental health, including feelings of shame, low self-worth, and anxiety. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common approaches to treat binge eating disorder and related mental health issues, particularly depression. CBT helps individuals address negative thoughts and expose underlying beliefs that serve as a driving force for their compulsion to eat. This form of therapy also helps to establish new thought patterns to regain a sense of control.

Focusing on relationships with interpersonal psychotherapy can also help to restore connections through family and friends, while reducing the triggers that often incite bingeing behavior. Sometimes, binge eating can also be seen as a method people use to find connection when it appears absent from their lives. Family therapy can therefore be a beneficial part of treatment.

A third form of therapy for treatment of binge eating disorder is dialectical behavior therapy. This approach focuses on developing the skills to deal with stress and negative emotions, which can also lead to a reduction in the desire to binge eat.

Lifelong Recovery from Binge Eating Disorder

After professional treatment for the disorder, an eating disorder survivor can reinforce recovery with ongoing therapy, structured eating, journaling, and maintaining an environment that reduces exposure to the foods commonly eaten during a binge episode. Supportive friends and family are also an important part of long-term recovery. A professional treatment program will help you discover which methods work best for your own long-term recovery.

If you or a loved one struggles with binge eating disorder alongside substance abuse or other mental health disorders, call us to take the first step toward recovery in a supportive environment led by experienced clinicians who understand that everyone experiences mental health disorders differently and deserves personalized treatment.

Written By: Sprout Editorial Team

The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.