Binge eating disorder (or BED) is a type of eating and feeding disorder that is now recognized as an official diagnosis. BED affects almost 2 percent of people worldwide and may cause additional health problems linked to diets, such as diabetes and high cholesterol levels. Almost everybody overeats on occasions. But for some individuals, excessive overeating that feels out of control and becomes a frequent occurrence crosses the line to BED.

When you have this disorder, you might be embarrassed about overeating and vow to stop. However, you feel such a compulsion that you cannot resist the urges and continue binge eating. If you have BED, treatment can help. Sometimes, eating and feeding disorders are not about food alone, which is why these are recognized as psychiatric disorders. People usually develop them as a way to deal with a deeper issue or another psychological disorder, such as depression or anxiety. This blog looks at ‘what is binge eating,’ the symptoms, causes, health risks, and treatment options of binge eating disorder.

What is a binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large quantities of food and feel unable to stop eating. BED is the most common type of eating disorder in the USA. Eating disorders are mental health conditions that cause dangerous and extreme eating behaviors. These extreme eating behaviors may cause other severe health problems and sometimes death. People with binge eating disorder may eat a lot of food in a short span of time (called a binge), even if they are not hungry.

Emotional stress or distress usually plays a role and can trigger a period of binge eating. A person might feel a sense of relief or release during a binge. However, they experience feelings of shame, guilt, psychological distress, or loss of control afterward. During binges, people with binge eating disorders usually eat faster than normal, eat until they feel uncomfortable, eat when they aren’t physically hungry, and feel embarrassed, disgusted, or depressed due to the binges. People with this type of eating disorder can be overweight or obese. Binge eating disorder is a severe health problem, but people with this disorder can get better with treatment.

What are the symptoms and signs of binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is more common in women than in men. Although individuals of any age can have this disorder, it usually begins in the late teens or early 20s. For a doctor to diagnose binge eating disorder, three or more of the following symptoms should be present:

  • eating large quantities without feeling hungry
  • eating much more quickly than normal
  • eating until uncomfortably full
  • eating alone because of feelings of embarrassment and shame
  • feelings of disgust or guilt with oneself

People with binge eating disorder often experience feelings of extreme distress and unhappiness about their overeating, body shape, and weight.

What are the causes of binge eating disorder?

The causes of BED are likely due to a variety of risk factors, including:

  1. Genetics

People with binge eating disorder might have increased sensitivity to dopamine, a chemical in your brain that is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. There is also strong evidence that the binge eating disorder is inherited.

  1. Gender

Binge eating disorder is more common in women than in men. In the USA, 3.6 percent of women experience this disorder at some point in their lives, compared with 2 percent of men. It can be due to underlying biological factors.

  1. Changes in the brain

There are indications that people with binge eating disorders might have changes in their brain structure that lead to a heightened response to food and less self-control.

  1. Body size

Almost 50 percent of people with this disorder are obese, and 25 to 50 percent of individuals seeking weight loss surgery meet the criteria for binge eating disorder. Weight problems can be a cause as well as a result of the disorder.

  1. Body image

People with this disorder usually have a negative body image. Body dissatisfaction, overeating, and dieting contribute to the development of this disorder.

  1. Binge eating history

Those affected generally report a history of binge eating as the first symptom of this disorder. It includes binge eating in the teenage years and childhood.

  1. Emotional trauma

Stressful life events, such as abuse or separation from a family member, are risk factors. Childhood bullying because of weight can also contribute.

  1. Other psychological conditions

Almost 80 percent of people with this disorder have at least one other psychological disorder, such as depression, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD), bipolar disorder, anxiety, or substance abuse.

An episode of binge eating may be triggered by negative feelings relating to body weight or body shape, stress, dieting, the availability of food, or boredom.

What are the health risks of binge eating disorder?

BED is associated with several significant emotional, physical, and social health risks. Up to 50 percent of people with this disorder have obesity. However, BED is also an independent risk factor for gaining weight and the development of obesity. It is because of the increased calorie intake during binging episodes. Obesity can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. However, studies have found that people with binge eating disorders have an even greater risk of developing these health issues than people who are equally obese and have the same weight but don’t have binge eating disorders.

Other health risks associated with the binge eating disorder include chronic pain, asthma, sleep problems, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In women, this condition is associated with a risk of pregnancy complications, fertility problems, and the development of polycystic ovary syndrome (i.e., PCOS). Research has shown that people with this disorder report challenges with social interactions compared with individuals without the condition. Additionally, people with binge eating disorders have an increased rate of hospitalization, outpatient care, and emergency department visits compared with people who do not have a feeding or eating disorder.

Do I have a binge eating disorder?

To be diagnosed with binge eating disorder, you must have had at least one binge eating episode per week for at least three months. The severity of BED ranges from mild, characterized by one to three binge-eating episodes a week, to the extreme, characterized by 14 or more episodes a week. Another essential characteristic is not taking action to “undo” your binge. It means that a person with a binge eating disorder does not throw up, over-exercise, or take laxatives to try and counteract a binging episode.

How to treat binge eating disorder?

The treatment plan for this disorder depends on the causes and severity of the eating disorder. This treatment targets excess weight, body image, binge eating behaviors, mental health issues, or a combination of these. Therapy options are cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, weight loss therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and medication.

The treatments may be carried out one-to-one, in a group setting, or in a self-help format. In some patients, just one type of therapy will be required, while others might need to try various combinations until they find the right fit. A medical or mental health care professional will advise on choosing an individual treatment plan.

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (or CBT) for BED focuses on analyzing the relationships between negative feelings, thoughts, and behaviors related to body shape, eating, and weight. Once the causes of negative patterns and emotions have been identified, strategies can be developed to help people change them. Specific interventions include:

  • Self-monitoring.
  • Setting goals.
  • Achieving regular meal patterns.
  • Encouraging healthy weight-control habits.
  • Changing thoughts about self and weight.
  1. Interpersonal psychotherapy

Interpersonal psychotherapy (or IPT) is based on the idea that binge eating disorder is a coping mechanism for unresolved personal problems such as relationship conflicts, grief, significant life changes, or underlying social issues. This therapy aims to identify the problem related to the negative eating behavior, acknowledge it, and make constructive changes over 12 to 16 weeks. Therapy can either be in a group format or individually with a trained therapist, and it can sometimes be combined with CBT. There is strong evidence that interpersonal psychotherapy has both short- and long-term positive impacts on reducing BED.

  1. Dialectical behavior therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (or DBT) views binge eating as an emotional reaction to specific negative experiences with which the individual has no other way of coping. It teaches patients to regulate their emotional responses to help cope with adverse situations in day-to-day life without binging. The four significant areas of treatment in DBT are distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

  1. Weight loss therapy

Behavioral weight loss therapy helps people lose weight, reducing binge eating by improving body image and self-esteem. This therapy intends to make gradual, healthy lifestyle changes regarding exercise and diet and monitor food intake and thoughts regarding food throughout the day.

  1. Medications

Several medications are available to treat binge eating and are usually cheaper and act quicker than traditional therapy. Available treatments include antiepileptic drugs like topiramate, antidepressants, and medicines traditionally used for hyperactive disorders.

Conclusion

Binge eating disorder is a common feeding and eating disorder that, if not treated, can severely affect an individual’s health. Binge disorder is characterized by repeated and uncontrolled episodes of eating large quantities of food and is often accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame. It adversely affects overall health, self-esteem, body weight, and mental health. Although the health risks of BED are significant, there are various effective treatments for BED. These include IPT, CBT, and medications. There are also several healthy lifestyle strategies that you must incorporate into everyday life to prevent binge eating disorders.