Not just overeating: The facts about binge eating

January 26, 2018 | by Erin Terada, PsyD, CEDS
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Many of us associate an eating disorder with not eating enough or purging. But the most common eating disorder among adults in this country involves out of control over-eating.

Binge eating disorder affects millions of Americans, and is characterized by eating a larger amount of food than normal in a short time frame (~ two hours), eating rapidly to the point of feeling uncomfortably full or sick, and/or eating alone or in secret.

The disorder was officially recognized in 2013 as a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Before you start wondering if that time you raided the pantry signals a problem, know that many of us use food to make ourselves feel better from time to time. Emotional eating is something nearly everyone does, to some degree. How do you know if there’s a real problem?

Symptoms of a binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time
  • Eating even when you're full or not hungry
  • Eating fast during binge episodes
  • Eating until you're uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
  • Feeling distressed, ashamed or guilty about your eating
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

We should also clear up some of the misconceptions about binge eating disorder, such as:

  1. It’s not the same as overeating. During a binge eating episode, an individual often feels a loss of control while eating, and guilt, shame or disgust after eating. Binge eating also happens more often than at one meal or sitting — it’s at least once a week for three or more months.

  2. Unlike bulimia, binge eating episodes are not followed by purging, excessive exercise or fasting. As a result, recurrent binge eating can lead to weight gain. Although not necessarily everyone with this disorder is overweight or obese.

  3. Binge eating disorder doesn’t just affect women. An estimated 40 percent of individuals with binge eating disorder are men. The disorder affects all ages, races, sexual orientations and ethnicities.

  4. Binge eating disorder isn’t about a lack of willpower. The disorder compels an individual to keep eating, where the food becomes like a drug. Some studies even suggest foods high in fat, sugar and salt have an addictive property similar to drugs.

It can be very difficult to live with a binge eating disorder. It affects all areas of life, including relationships and work. It can lead to depression, anxiety and low self-worth. Binge eating also carries physical health risks such as heart disease, cholesterol issues, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Fortunately, binge eating disorder is very treatable.Treatment should not only promote mindful eating habits, but it should also address the underlying physical, emotional and social factors associated with binge eating.

Know the signs of an eating disorder and when to get help.

Linden Oaks Behaviorial Health has expanded its Eating Disorders Program to include an Intensive Outpatient Program for binge eating, including individual, group and family counseling, as well as nutritional and exercise counseling. Our therapists address psychological issues related to an individual’s binge eating, help develop healthy eating plans, and provide coping strategies to sustain recovery.

Get help from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health


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