girl eating a donut

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognized binge eating disorder as a distinct eating disorder for the first time with the release of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition. In prior editions, it was categorized in Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified.1 For those struggling with binge eating disorder, this felt like a triumph – finally, this condition received recognition beyond a physical issue, a lack of willpower or something easily fixed by dieting and a treadmill.

While the APA clinical categorization is a big step in the right direction, it does not automatically make diagnosis easier. The identification of binge eating disorder can be difficult given the hard-to-nail-down criteria. While overeating is a challenge for many Americans, recurrent binge eating is much less common, far worse and associated with significant physical and psychological problems.1

Binge Eating Is Not a “One-Size-Fits-All” Disorder

Binge eating is a highly individualized disorder and one that is hard to pinpoint. There is not one established textbook profile of the binge eater. Furthermore, in a culture in which overindulgence is the norm, it is hard to differentiate between a sweet tooth, a fondness for food and a clinically diagnosable eating disorder. Those who compulsively overeat do so in different ways, for various reasons and with diverse results. What constitutes a binge eating episode for one person may not for another. For example, eating two or three sandwiches in a sitting may indicate a binge eating disorder for a middle-aged woman. However, this might be a perfectly acceptable afternoon snack for a physically active, still growing high school football player. While the quantity of food eaten factors into the diagnosis of binge eating disorder, it is not a hard and fast indicator. Age, gender and activity level must also be taken into account.

Why Do I Binge Eat: Causes

Binge eating is more than a succession of unhealthy choices or a proclivity for sweets. Trying to satisfy an emotional need through food is what places binge eating behavior in the eating disorder realm. Like other eating disorders, binge eating disorder is a mental illness caused commonly by underlying anxiety, depression or past trauma. People who binge eat often feel out of control and have an inability to stop eating. Eating great quantities of food derives from a deep-seeded emotional need and craving. People turn to food for validation, excitement, an escape, companionship, out of fear, distress or an often overwhelming feeling of needing something without knowing what.

Stats and Facts

  • Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S., affecting an estimated 3.5% of women and 2% of men. An estimated 30% to 40% of people seeking weight-loss treatments can be clinically diagnosed with the disorder.2
  • While it is estimated that 70% of people who suffer from binge eating disorder are obese, they are not all overweight, likely due to having a high metabolism or a combination of compulsive eating and excessive exercise.2

Symptoms and Signs

Binge eating patterns and physical appearance are symptoms of the underlying mental illness. From a clinical standpoint, binge eating disorder is defined as recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control. On average, this disorder occurs at least once a week over three months.1 Although everyone is different, the following are additional potential signs of binge eating disorder.3

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating large amounts of food without feeling physically hungry
  • Periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling uncomfortably full, without purging
  • Eating alone because of embarrassment
  • Feeling distressed, disgusted, depressed or guilty after an episode
  • Secretive food behaviors such as stealing, hiding or hoarding food3

In addition, certain thought patterns and personality types are associated with binge eating disorder, including:

  • Rigid and inflexible “all-or-nothing” thinking
  • A strong need to be in control
  • Difficulty expressing feelings and needs
  • Perfectionistic tendencies
  • Working hard to please others3

Treatment

Long-term recovery from binge eating disorder requires examining old patterns and replacing them with new, healthier ones. If you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms of binge eating disorder, we can help. At The Ranch, we utilize traditional, alternative and trauma-focused therapies to help clients break the cycle of compulsive eating not only by eliminating the symptoms of binge eating, but also by exploring the emotions underlying this behavior. A wide range of therapies helps clients address difficult issues that may be at the root of their disordered eating, such as trauma, abuse, bullying or dysfunctional family patterns and relationships. Although the disease is challenging, recovery and a healthy relationship with food is possible. Call us today at 888-545-4849.

  1. Feeding and Eating Disorders – DSM-5. DSM.org website. http://www.dsm5.org/documents/eating%20disorders%20fact%20sheet.pdf Accessed October 20, 2016.
  2. What is BED? Binge Eating Disorders Association. http://bedaonline.com/understanding-binge-eating-disorder/what-is-bed/ Accessed October 20, 2016.
  3. Binge Eating Disorder. National Eating Disorders Association website. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/binge-eating-disorder Accessed October 20, 2016.