What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is characterized by repeated episodes of uncontrolled binge eating and feelings of extreme shame and distress. It typically starts in the late teens to early twenties, although it can occur at any age. It is a chronic disease and can last for many years.
Like other eating disorders, it is more common in women than men. However, it is the most common type of eating disorder among men.
A binge eating episode is characterized by eating larger than normal amounts of food in a relatively short period of time. In BED, this behavior is accompanied by feelings of distress and lack of control.
For a doctor to diagnose BED, three or more of the following must also be present:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts without feeling hungry
- Eating alone due to feelings of embarrassment and shame
- Feelings of guilt or disgust with oneself
People with BED often experience feelings of extreme unhappiness and distress about their overeating, body shape and weight.
While some people may occasionally overeat, such as at Thanksgiving or a party, this does not mean they have BED, despite having experienced some of the symptoms listed above.
To be diagnosed, people must have had at least one binge eating episode per week for a minimum of three months.
The severity ranges from mild, which is characterized by one to three binge eating episodes per week, to extreme, which is characterized by 14 or more episodes per week.
Another important characteristic is the absence of inappropriate compensatory behaviors. This means that, unlike bulimia, a person with BED does not vomit, take laxatives or over-exercise to try and “make up” for a binging episode.
Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
Most people with binge-eating disorder are overweight or obese, but you may be at a normal weight. Behavioral and emotional signs and symptoms of binge-eating disorder include:
- Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as over a two-hour period
- Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
- Eating even when you're full or not hungry
- Eating rapidly during binge episodes
- Eating until you're uncomfortably full
- Frequently eating alone or in secret
- Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating
- Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss
Unlike a person with bulimia, after a binge, you don't regularly compensate for extra calories eaten by vomiting, using laxatives or exercising excessively. You may try to diet or eat normal meals. But restricting your diet may simply lead to more binge eating.
The severity of binge-eating disorder is determined by how often episodes of bingeing occur during a week.
How is Binge Eating Disorder Treated?
Treatment of binge eating disorder is challenging, because most people feel ashamed of their disorder and try to hide their problem. Often, they're so successful that close family members and friends don't know they binge eat.
Eating disorders require a big-picture treatment plan that's tailored to meet your individual needs. The goal is to help you gain control over your eating behavior. Most often, it involves a combination of strategies.
Psychotherapy: This is a type of individual counseling that focuses on changing your thinking (cognitive therapy) and behavior (behavioral therapy). It includes practical techniques for developing healthy attitudes toward food and weight, as well as approaches for changing the way you respond to difficult situations.
Medication:A number of medications have been approved by the FDA to treat binge eating disorder. They can help reduce the number of episodes. The most common side effects are dry mouth, trouble sleeping, increased heart rate, and jittery feelings. But they also have some risk of serious problems, like psychiatric disturbances, heart attack, and stroke.
Antiseizure medications may also help, but their side effects can include memory problems, tingling sensations in fingers and toes, trouble speaking, and sedation.
Doctors may sometimes recommend antidepressants, too.
Nutrition Counseling: A specialist helps you restore normal eating patterns and teaches you about nutrition and a balanced diet.
Group and Family Therapy: Family support is very important to treatment success. It helps your family members understand your eating disorder and recognize its signs and symptoms so they can support you better.
In group therapy, you can find support and openly discuss your feelings and concerns with others who share common experiences and problems.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.