Binge eating disorder is characterized by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. Unlike bulimia, there is no regular purging, but individuals suffering from this disorder may go on sporadic fasts or repetitive diets in an effort to gain control of their weight and eating habits.

Co-occurring disorders like anxiety and depression often contribute to binge eating. Feelings of intense shame or self-hatred are common after a binge, which is why effective treatment must address both underlying mental health issues and the binge-shame-self-hate cycle. Learn about The Ranch eating disorder program or call 844-876-7680.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders first recognized binge eating disorder as a distinct eating disorder diagnosis separate from OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder, formerly EDNOS) in its fifth addition. According to the DSM-5 (2013, American Psychiatric Association), binge eating disorder is characterized by:

  • Recurrent episodes of eating amounts of food much larger than what most people would eat within a discrete period of time (e.g., any two-hour period) in similar circumstances
  • Binge eating episodes that include three or more of the following behaviors:
    • Eating much more rapidly than normal
    • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
    • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
    • Eating alone because of embarrassment or shame about food consumption
    • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or very guilty after overeating
  • Marked distress with binge eating behaviors
  • Binge eating at least once a week for three months
  • Binge eating behavior that is not associated with the regular use of compensatory behavior like in individuals with bulimia nervosa

Binge Eating and Similarities to Substance Abuse

Compulsive overeaters or those with binge eating disorder think about food constantly and regularly eat past the point of being full. They plan meals obsessively and will often eat in secret. Binge eating disorder may not lead to obesity, although many compulsive overeaters are overweight. However, some compulsive overeaters will maintain a normal or average weight.

In some cases of binge eating disorder, a person may consume 5,000 calories or more. Many report feeling “high” after this massive intake of food. Research, such as a 2010 study published in Nature Neuroscience, indicates that binge eating may impact the release of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates pleasant feelings. Repetitive binge eating can throw off the reward center in the brain and potentially mimic effects of drug abuse where a person needs more and more of the substance (in this case food) in order to get the same effect or “high.”

Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is a serious condition with very real health consequences such as heart disease, diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), liver problems, and high blood pressure and cholesterol. Warning signs of binge eating disorder are not as outwardly obvious as anorexia and bulimia because binges are typically done in private. There may be no obvious signs of the disorder (like purge sores on hands and swollen cheeks in bulimics or emaciation in anorexics), and body weight may vary from normal to mild, moderate or obese. Those concerned that a loved one may be suffering from binge eating disorder should look for some of the following indications:

  • Eating very rapidly or seemingly uncontrollably
  • Eating alone
  • Obsessing about the next meal, even just after a large meal
  • Rapid fluctuations in weight
  • Trying out several different diets and weight-loss tactics
  • Eating compulsively in reaction to stress or difficult feelings

Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

A treatment approach that targets both the binge-eating behavior and the underlying issues that fuel the disorder yields the best chances for long-term recovery from binge eating disorder. The Ranch eating disorder program  draws on a combination of traditional, alternative and trauma-focused therapies to help clients break the cycle of compulsive eating by not only eliminating the symptom of overeating, but exploring the reasons behind this behavior and addressing co-occurring mental health disorders that could contribute to it.

Dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness and interpersonal therapeutic approaches as well as nutritional counseling and psychotherapy that address a client’s self-image can help to heal the deep wounds of binge eating disorder. Twelve-step programs such as Overeater’s Anonymous also help clients learn how to be more accountable for their food intake and develop a peer support network with others in recovery from compulsive overeating.

Shame, guilt and self-hate are all feelings that often surround binge eating disorder. At The Ranch eating disorders program, clients are welcomed into a nurturing, accepting space where they can feel relief in “letting the secrets out” without being shamed or judged among others sharing similar issues. Clients experience the healing power of peeling back the layers of their self-protective eating behaviors and allowing themselves to be vulnerable. What they discover is the true self that’s been hidden under their disorder, and then they learn to embrace and love that self. Learn more about our women’s eating disorder program or call 844-876-7680.