Binge Eating Disorder: A Mental and Physical Health Condition

woman looking at bread and holding her hands over her mouth

We all occasionally find ourselves overindulging in food, especially around the holidays. Sometimes you don’t realize you ate too much until indigestion strikes shortly after you eat. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, over three percent of women, and about two percent of men, have a pattern of eating too much food in too short a time. This condition causes significant distress. Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

All eating disorders are mental health conditions, but binge eating disorder also carries significant physical health risks. Many providers at SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services offer outpatient psychotherapy for treating eating disorders and helping people repair their relationship with food. This blog details the symptoms of binge eating disorder, gives an overview of the health risks, and gives you steps to help heal and create a new, healthy relationship with food and your body.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is different from bulimia nervosa. A person with Bulimia will consume large quantities of food quickly but then purge the food to avoid the calories and alleviate guilt about eating. A diagnosis of binge eating disorder requires the following criteria be present according to the DSM-5:

  1. Episodes of binge eating that reoccur.
  2. When people binge, three or more of the following are present.
    • Eating rapidly and feeling a loss of control
    • Eating until they feel painfully full.
    • Consuming large amounts of food even when not hungry.
    • Embarrassment over quantities of food causes them to eat alone.
    • Feelings of disgust, sadness, guilt, or shame after overeating.
  3. Obsessive thoughts about food, calories, and binging.
  4. Not purging, using laxatives, or other methods to eliminate the food following a binge.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

therapist talking to an overweight person who is eating

The symptoms of binge eating disorder vary from person to person, just as with any mental health condition. If you’re worried that you or a loved one has a problem with recurrent binge eating episodes that affect mental or physical health, it can be helpful to know the symptoms of a binge eating disorder.

  • Large amounts of food disappear quickly, evidenced by empty wrappers and containers that may be hidden.
  • Eating in secret.
  • Introducing new fad diets that include cutting out entire food groups.
  • Hoarding or stealing food.
  • Withdrawal from usual activities and social engagements.
  • Obsessive concern about body shape and size.
  • Frequently weighing oneself and checking the mirror.
  • Erratic eating habits include eating all day with no planned mealtimes, skipping meals, or only eating tiny portions of food at regular meals.
  • Creating rituals around food, including excessive chewing, not allowing foods to touch, or only eating a particular food group.
  • Feelings of guilt, sadness, or disgust after overeating.
  • A cycle of weight gain or weight loss
  • Complaining of stomach upset
  • Low self-esteem and poor body image
  • Substance abuse

Most people with binge eating disorders will vow not to binge again. They may read self-help books and try to find ways to avoid binging on their own, but the behavior becomes a compulsion they cannot control. Untreated binge eating disorders can harm a person’s physical health.

Health Risks of Binge Eating Disorder

woman eating a burger while another woman stares at her judgmentally

You may wonder how patterns of binge eating affect the body. Binge eating disorder carries significant risks to physical health. These risks increase the longer a person continues their habit of eating large amounts of food in a short time. A medical professional should evaluate these health risks when a person starts treatment and again as treatment progresses. People with binge eating disorder can experience the following.

  • obesity
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol,
  • type 2 diabetes

Who is At Risk for Binge Eating Disorder?

woman cutting a tiny piece of food on an empty plate

Binge eating disorder most commonly impacts young and middle-aged people. It affects people of any body weight but is more common in overweight or obese people. However, most people who are obese do not suffer from binge eating disorders. Diabetes appears to be a risk factor for binge eating disorder, perhaps because of the need for intense regulation of food intake to manage glucose levels.

Childhood trauma, such as comments about body shape, weight, or eating behavior, can cause people to develop binge eating disorders. It is common in families – though whether there is a genetic link or a learned behavior pattern is uncertain.

People with a history of dieting can become binge eaters because they restrict calories during the day and may wind up binging at night. Binge eating disorder is also common among people with low self-esteem and depression.

What if I Think A Loved One Has Binge Eating Disorder

It can be challenging to determine if a loved one has an eating disorder because they become experts at hiding the behaviors. Hiding food, eating in secret, and disposing of evidence of the food eaten is common with anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and many other eating disorders, including binge eating disorder. So what can you do if you suspect someone you care about has a problem with binge eating?

The best method for expressing your concern is to be direct. Offer encouragement and support if the person desires to stop the binging behavior. You may even offer to help them find medical and mental health professionals or attend appointments with them.

binge eating word cloud

Treatment of Binge Eating Disorder

The treatment options for binge eating disorder depend on the severity of the condition and how long a person has struggled with it. More aggressive treatments, such as inpatient programs, may be necessary if binge eating negatively impacts the quality of life. The most effective treatment will include care from a medical professional for any physical health problems associated with the disorder, as well as psychotherapy.

The psychotherapy intervention used most often for binge eating disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy to help identify and reframe thoughts and behaviors about food and the body. These therapies help improve self-esteem. The goal is to heal the patient’s relationship with food so they can get and stay healthy. Support groups can also assist people suffering from binge eating disorders to feel less alone and more empowered to make good decisions for their health and wellness.At SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services, we have many providers skilled in helping people solve their struggles with diet and unhealthy eating patterns. We provide group and individual eating disorder therapy for children, teens, and adults and family therapy for those struggling with eating disorders. Reach out today to get the help you need to heal your relationship with food and learn to love the one body you have.

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