Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
Binge eating disorder is a severe mental health condition that sometimes goes unnoticed by the public. It is less well-known than its other eating disorder counterparts - anorexia and bulimia nervosa. This article will learn about the prevalence of binge eating disorder and other important facts. It will also include statistics that you might not have heard of.
Binge Eating Is The Most Common Eating Disorder
Despite not being officially recognized as an eating disorder until 2013 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th edition by the American Psychiatric Association, binge eating disorder is more common than both anorexia and bulimia combined. 
Binge eating disorder is described as frequent and uncontrollable episodes of excessive food consumption, resulting in negative feelings and emotions like distress, guilt, shame, and depression.
Despite these feelings and emotions, binge eating is usually done to help cope with them, leading to it becoming a chronic and vicious cycle.
People with the disorder will often eat a lot of food very quickly, even when they are not hungry, and will continue to do so until they are uncomfortably full. They can also exhibit other symptoms such as eating alone, secretly hiding food, and embarrassment. 
Nearly 3 million people in the United States struggle with this eating disorder, and it's believed that approximately 8 percent of adults will experience binge eating disorder in their lifetime.  
Binge Eating Disorder Doesn't Discriminate
Statistics show that binge eating disorder is more likely to affect women, but not by a large margin.
Between the genders, binge eating disorder affects up to 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men. In fact, even with this small discrepancy, binge eating disorder is still the most common eating disorder among males. 
Because the disorder is most commonly seen in a person's late teens and early 20s, many binge eating statistics are centered around adults. However, the condition can be seen across all ages, and even kids can also develop eating disorders at a very young age. Older individuals can be affected later on in life as well.
Binge eating can also affect anyone from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, research shows that white and Hispanic women may be more affected by binge eating disorder than African and Asian Americans. However, research is still limited in the latter two groups, and therefore, it's inconclusive if certain demographics are more prone to binge eating. 
Regardless of a person's background, education, or income level, anyone can develop a binge eating disorder.
Binge Eating Has Multiple Risk Factors
Like most mental health conditions, binge eating has many possible causes, but it's believed that genetic and biological factors cause a significant portion of cases.
It is estimated that up to 50 percent of cases are genetic. Those who have a family history may be at risk, especially immediate family members such as parents and siblings. 
The neurotransmitter dopamine may also play a role because of its role in the brain's reward pathways and its impact on a person's mood.  When someone with the disorder consumes food, they experience a dopamine release, making them feel a sense of relief. This is known as comfort eating, and the behavior is also seen in other conditions.
However, for people with binge eating disorder, dopamine causes them to have food cravings that they can't keep under control. It increases their enjoyment of it, which can greatly incentivize eating. 
Of course, psychological factors can also be responsible for binge eating. Just like other disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder can be influenced by the media and your peers. If an individual feels bad about themselves, there is a chance that they will use food as a coping mechanism, and this can lead to binge eating disorder.
Binge Eating And Obesity
Due to the nature of the eating disorder, binge eating is associated with obesity. This doesn't necessarily mean that all overweight or obese individuals have binge eating disorder however. Still, there is a strong correlation between the two since 70 percent of people with binge eating disorder are obese. 
Obesity can lead to several health concerns such as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, joint problems, and sleep disorders related to breathing difficulties. Many of these can be critical and life-threatening.
People with binge eating disorder are known to attempt dieting frequently. However, they typically don't display any other compensation behaviors used in response to their eating and weight gain. 
For example, purging, which is the forced expulsion of food through self-induced means, like vomiting and laxatives, is a behavior that is associated with bulimia nervosa. Purging sets the eating disorders apart; people with bulimia are known to binge food then try to purge it so that they don't gain weight.
Nonetheless, people with binge eating disorder can still attempt restrictive eating and fasting. Still, excessive eating behaviors typically return, leading to weight-cycling or the repeated loss and gain of body weight. This is also known as "yo-yo dieting" by many.
Binge Eating Disorder Coexists With Other Mental Conditions
It is estimated that around half of those who have binge eating disorder will also have a comorbid mood or anxiety disorder, or both, according to Eating Recovery Center statistics. 
Binge eating disorder is often comorbid with major depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. The emotional issues that come with them contribute to the eating disorder's persistence and can make matters worse.
As mentioned before, people who binge eat often do so to cope because food can provide a temporary but powerful sense of relief. For similar reasons, the eating disorder is also associated with substance abuse.
These traits can make it incredibly difficult to overcome binge eating disorder, and professional treatment is necessary to learn how to find healthy ways of coping. Unfortunately, treatment rates are quite low, and you'll learn about this in the next section.
Binge Eating Disorder Is Undertreated
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, statistics show that less than 44% percent of people with binge eating disorder will get treatment in their lifetime, and fewer than 30 percent are currently receiving it. 
When left untreated, the disorder can be debilitating and severely impact a person's quality of life. The good news is that all eating disorders are treatable.
People need to spot the signs and symptoms, and it often takes intervention from friends and family to get their loved one help for their eating disorder.
Do You Have An Eating Disorder?
Suppose you or a loved one struggles with binge eating or any other eating disorder, like bulimia or anorexia. In that case, it will require a careful diagnosis from a mental health professional who can assist you in getting the proper treatment that you need.
Binge eating disorder is usually treated with the help of a psychotherapist, a nutritionist, and medication.
Therapy can help individuals learn healthy coping skills for the negative thought patterns that cause them to lose control and overeat and help deal with depression and anxiety, perpetuating the eating disorder.
Medication can be prescribed to help deal with these coexisting conditions, making the healing process more manageable. However, only a primary care doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe medication.
Meanwhile, individuals will also work with a nutritionist who can help them get a healthy weight and maintain it by incorporating dietary strategies that prevent weight cycling. This can provide relief or even prevent many of the health consequences that are associated with obesity.
Although getting help will require a professional assessment and diagnosis, you can also take this free binge eating disorder test and determine if you or a loved one may be dealing with the disorder. It's not a substitute for a professional diagnosis, but it can help people take the first step to overcome their eating disorders and have a happier and healthier life.
Hopefully, by reading this article, you've learned just how widespread binge eating disorder is and other information about the most common eating disorder. With increased awareness of the facts, more people can start to spot the signs of the condition in themselves and others, and perhaps this can improve eating disorder treatment statistics and other outcomes in the long run
- Schaeffer, J. (2016, December 19). Binge Eating Disorder: Statistics, Facts, and You. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder-statistics
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, February). Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
- Eating Recovery Center. (2020). Binge Eating Disorder, Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.eatingrecoverycenter.com/conditions/binge-eating/facts-statistics
- Sala, M., Reyes-Rodríguez, M. L., Bulik, C. M., &Bardone-Cone, A. (2013). Race, ethnicity, and eating disorder recognition by peers. Eating disorders, 21(5), 423–436. https://doi.org/10.1080/10640266.2013.827540
- Walden Behavioral Care. (2020, June 10). Binge Eating Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.waldeneatingdisorders.com/what-we-treat/binge-eating-disorder/
- National Eating Disorders Association. (2020, May 08). Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders