Binge Eating Disorder: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Binge eating disorder (also known as BED) is a type of eating and feeding disorder officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is the most common eating disorder in the US, and can affect both the physical and mental health of sufferers.

This blog examines the symptoms, causes, and health risks of binge eating disorder, as well as how to get help and support to overcome it.

What is binge eating disorder?

People with binge eating disorder frequently engage in bouts of out-of-control eating, often consuming large quantities of food to the point of discomfort. However, they do not purge their bodies afterwards (unlike people with bulimia) so many sufferers are overweight or obese. They may try to hide how much they are eating, and feel guilt, shame and psychological distress, which often leads to more episodes of binge eating.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the US, affecting 3.5% of women and 2% of men. It tends to be more prevalent in women during early adulthood and more common in men during midlife. The condition affects people of every age, gender, ethnicity, body type and cultural background. If left untreated, it can last for many years which is why it is important to seek help if you, or a loved one, are struggling with disordered eating.

Symptoms of binge eating disorder

Diagnosing binge eating disorder can be challenging, because sufferers often feel ashamed and try to hide their behavior from friends and family. However there are a number of behavioral and emotional, and physical signs and symptoms to look out for.

Behavioral and emotional symptoms

  • Consumes unusually large amounts of food in a small amount of time.
  • Leaves evidence of binge eating – empty wrappers or food containers that held a lot of food.
  • Eats alone or in secret.
  • Withdraws from friends, family and social activities.
  • Steals or hoards food.
  • Follows fad diets, such cutting out entire food groups.
  • Frequently diets, possibly without weight loss.
  • Fixated with body weight and shape.
  • Lacks control over when and how to stop eating.
  • Does not follow normal eating behaviors, for example eats throughout the day with no planned mealtimes or skips meals altogether.
  • Develops food rituals such as chewing excessively or not allowing foods to touch.
  • Experiences feelings of disgust, depression, low self-esteem or guilt after overeating.

Physical symptoms

  • Fluctuations in weight, both up and down (known as yo-yo dieting).
  • Gastrointestinal problems including stomach cramps, constipation, acid reflux, heartburn and diarrhoea.
  • Low energy, sleepiness and difficulty concentrating.

Causes of binge eating disorder

Although binge eating disorder is often linked to underlying emotional problems, the exact cause is unknown. However, there are some risk factors that can increase the likelihood of someone developing the disorder:

  • Family history of eating disorders, depression or substance use.
  • Gender – binge eating disorder is more common in women than men.
  • Increased sensitivity to dopamine – the chemical in the brain that’s responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure which makes eating more rewarding and pleasurable than for people without the disorder.
  • Psychological issues or low self-esteem.
  • History of dieting.
  • Body size – weight problems may be both a cause and result of the disorder.
  • Negative body image.
  • Childhood bullying due to weight.
  • Significant loss or trauma.
  • Sexual or physical abuse.

How is binge eating disorder diagnosed?

The American Psychiatric Association, states that three or more of the following symptoms must be present (at least once a week for three months) in order for binge eating disorder to be diagnosed:

  • Eating more rapidly than normal.
  • Eating until uncomfortably full.
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling hungry.
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or very guilty afterwards.

Health risks of binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is associated with a number of physical and/or mental health issues.

Physical health risks

Some people who suffer from binge eating disorder are able to maintain a normal weight. However, for others binge eating causes rapid weight gain which can lead to obesity. The National Eating Disorders Association advises that most people who are clinically obese do not have binge eating disorder. However, of those with binge eating disorder, up to two-thirds are classed as clinically obese.

Other physical health risks linked to binge eating disorder include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. According to Olguin et al (2016) in women, it is associated with menstrual dysfunction, a risk of pregnancy complications and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Research also shows that people with the disorder have a higher rate of hospitalization, outpatient care and emergency department visits than people without the condition

Mental health issues

Binge eating disorder is not just about food, which is why it is recognized as psychiatric disorder. Sometimes, people develop it as a way of dealing with an underlying emotional issue or other mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder or substance use disorders.

Treatment for binge eating disorder

At Kindbridge, we will assess the causes and severity of the binge eating disorder in order to devise a personalized recovery plan. The goal is to help you, or a loved one, regain control of your eating habits.

Treatment may target binge eating behaviors, excess weight and body image. If binge eating is being used as coping mechanism for underlying emotional issues, we will also seek to identify and treat those co-existing psychological problems.

We will connect you, or a loved one, to a fully-licensed counselor. Therapy options include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy and weight loss therapy. For some people, we may recommend one type of therapy, while others may need to try a combination of different types of therapy.

Our online counseling for binge eating disorder is highly accessible, affordable and convenient. Take the first step today and book your free 30-minute consultation so we can discuss your current situation and individual requirements.