Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC
Do you often find yourself struggling with overeating continuously? Overeating from time to time is a normal part of being human in places where food is sometimes available in excess. However, suppose you regularly overeat while experiencing intense feelings of powerlessness, shame, guilt, and control loss. In that case, you may be suffering from an eating disorder called Binge Eating Disorder (BED). Binge eating or compulsive eating disorder is a severe, vicious cycle that can be a potentially life-threatening disorder. Binge eating can seriously affect an individual’s physical and emotional health if not treated by a professional.
What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder is one of the more recent additions to the DSM-5 in terms of categorizations. Before the 2013 revision, binge eating disorders have not recognized a condition independently, but rather as an “eating disorder not otherwise specified.” Years later, researchers have determined that binge eating disorder is a significant disorder experienced by a substantial portion of individuals.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines binge eating as “recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control.” The manual also reveals that individuals may also have “feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or disgust and may binge eat alone to hide the behavior.”
Episodes of binge eating are associated with three or more of the following symptoms:
- Eating large amounts of food more rapidly than average.
- Eating until you feel uncomfortably full or eating when you are already full.
- Eating alone to avoid feelings of embarrassment.
- Eating generally in front of other people only to eat excessively when you are alone.
- Experiencing feelings of disgust, depression, and guilt after binge eating.
- Relieving stress by eating.
- Never feeling satisfied after a binge eating episode.
- Experiencing feelings of desperation to control your binge eating habits.
- Binge eating occurs on average, at least once a week for three months.
What Is The Difference Between Binge Eating And Bulimia?
Bulimia is another type of eating disorder that is very similar to binge eating. Episodes of overeating and purging also characterize it. However, while individuals with binge eating disorders do not perform methods of “undoing” their actions to avoid any weight gain, those with bulimia compensate for their efforts by:
- Using laxatives
- Over Exercising
Warning Signs (Emotional & Physical)
If you believe you may be suffering from a binge eating disorder, here is a list of common emotional and physical symptoms you may be experiencing:
- Recurrent fluctuations of your weight, whether it be weight gain or weight loss
- Stomach cramping
- Acid reflux
- Fear of eating in public or around others
- Feelings of low self-esteem
- Stashing food in places where no one will find it
- Frequent dieting
- Withdrawing from friends and activities
- Development of food rituals such as only eating a particular food or food group etc.
- Frequently checking your body in the mirror to examine flaws in your appearance
- Disruptions in your everyday eating behaviors include skipping meals, eating smaller than usual portions, and having no planned mealtimes
The Prevalence Of Binge Eating Disorder
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, binge eating disorder is prevalent between 0.2% and 3.5% in females and 0.9% and 2.0% amongst males. Out of all eating disorders, binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder experienced by males. The association also indicates that the disorder begins during late adolescence and early adulthood. However, it has been recorded in older adults as well as children. Additionally, 3/10 individuals searching for weight loss tips and treatments show subthreshold signs of binge eating disorder. Further, research shows that individuals with eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, are more likely to experience other mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Risk Factors Of Binge Eating Disorder
According to research, binge eating disorder can be related to a combination of social, cultural, biological, and psychological factors.
Social-Cultural Risk Factors
One of the most prevalent factors related to developing a binge eating disorder is the social pressure to be thin. When children and young adults are continuously exposed to criticism about their body looks and weight, they may become incredibly vulnerable. This, in turn, can lead them to develop extremely low self-esteem and feelings of worthiness. It has also been indicated that girls and boys are beginning to experience eating disorders from an earlier age, possibly due to social media.
Biological Risk Factors
Another factor that is strongly linked to the development of binge eating is biological abnormalities. For example, abnormalities to the hypothalamus gland, which controls appetite, may not be fully functioning. Another biological factor that could be related is genetics. For example, research suggests that individuals with binge eating disorder may have an increased sensitivity to the chemical dopamine, which controls the pleasure/reward systems’ functions in your body. There is also research that suggests that the disorder can be inherited as well.
Psychological Risk Factors
Binge eating disorder can also be linked to other mental health disorders such as depression. Individuals with binge eating disorder are likely to experience depression symptoms and have difficulties with impulse control.
Traumatic Experience Risk Factors
Research also indicates that people who experience traumatic events such as the loss of a significant other or relationship problems are also likely to develop a binge eating disorder as they use eating to deal with stress and distancing from the emotional pain. Additionally, individuals who experience physical abuse, sexual abuse, and bullying have also been found to have an increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder.
Health Consequences of Binge Eating Disorders
The presence of an eating disorder can cause severe and serious health consequences that can cause a variety of psychological, emotional, and physical complications such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Higher levels of cholesterol
- Gallbladder disease
- Type II diabetes
- Infertility problems/ complications
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Extreme fatigue
- Sleep apnea
- Difficulties generally functioning at school, work, and in your social life
- Other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse problems
Treatment Options For Binge Eating
Although you may be experiencing extreme senses of lacking worth and control in your life, binge eating disorder is a very treatable disorder. It requires a medical diagnosis from a doctor or a mental health specialist. Treatment plans will depend on the individual’s personal goals and the severity of the eating disorder. However, once an individual recognizes their binge eating disorder symptoms and seeks help, they can expect to receive treatment in the forms of interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and counseling through an eating recovery center. However, it is essential to note that official treatment plans can only come from a trained counselor. For all guidance regarding treatment, please consult a licensed medical professional.
Am I a Binge Eater?
If you are still questioning whether you have a binge eating disorder, here are a few questions to test your behaviors and ask yourself before determining if you need to consult a medical professional:
- Do I eat until I feel sick?
- Do I eat in secret?
- Do I feel out of control when I eat?
- Why do I overeat?
- Do I eat to relieve myself of stress and anxiety?
- Do I experience feelings of disgust and shame after eating food?
- Do you have recurring thoughts about food and eating throughout the day?
If you answered yes to any of the previous questions, you might be experiencing a binge eating disorder.
What To Expect From A Binge Eating Disorder Quiz
Taking a binge disorder test can help you recognize unhealthy behaviors that you may not have been aware of before. If you are still unsure about whether you or someone you love is experiencing a binge eating disorder, follow the link to our binge eating quiz. Please note that our “why do I binge eat quiz” is simply a test or resource to help you understand whether further help would be useful. It is not meant to replace an official diagnosis from a licensed medical professional.
It is easy to feel alone and feel as though there is no one around you who understands what you are going through. The first step in getting help is realizing that you are experiencing unhealthy habits. Seeking help is a way to re-take control of yourself and help you back on track to living a fulfilling and happy life. The National Eating Disorder Association indicates that the earlier an individual seeks treatment, the greater chance they have of overcoming the adverse side effects of their eating disorder and an increased likelihood of both a physical and emotional recovery.