Who’s at Risk for Developing Binge Eating Disorder?

Were you aware that the most frequently occurring eating disorder isn’t anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa? The truth is, the most common form of eating disorder, which affects from 6 to 8 million people in the United States, is binge eating disorder. People in need of binge eating disorder recovery often periodically and regularly have binge-eating episodes, in which they eat a large amount of food in a short period. It’s usually done in secret, and oftentimes it will be unhealthy junk food that’s eaten.

Unlike other, more popularized eating disorders,people with binge eating disorder do not purge their food by vomiting, laxatives, or compulsive exercise. Binge eating disorder is a very serious mental health problem that can carry severe physical health issues. However, with the help of compassionate, personalized binge eating disorder treatment,there is hope for long-term recovery from binge eating disorder and other eating disorders.

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is a widespread and potentially dangerous mental health disorder that results in compulsive overeating during binging episodes. In other words, binge eating disorder is when a person regularly eats lots of food in a short time.

If binge eating disorder is left untreated, serious health issues surrounding obesity, and further psychiatric complications related to depression, poor self-image, and anxiety can occur. The latter group can lead to self-harm and sometimes even death.

The American Psychiatric Association says that people with binge eating disorder have binge eating episodes at least one to three times per week, eating large amounts of food much more quickly than normal. Usually, the person binging feels shame and self-disgust at the behavior but still feels compelled to keep doing it. While it’s not present in every case of binge eating disorder, both men and women with binge eating disorder are often overweight or obese.

The DSM-5 lists the diagnostic criteria as the following:

  • Criterion 1: Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
    • Eating, in a discrete period (e.g., within any 2 hours), an amount of food that is larger than most people would eat in a similar period under similar circumstances
    • The sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)
  • Criterion 2: Binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
    • 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 being embarrassed by how much one is eating
    • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
  • Criterion 3: Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
  • Criterion 4: The binge eating occurs, on average,at least 2 days a week for 6 months (DSM-IV frequency and duration criteria)at least 1 day a week for 3 months (DSM-5 frequency and duration criteria)
  • Criterion 5: The binge eating is not associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behavior (e.g., purging, fasting, excessive exercise) and does not occur exclusively during the course of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

Its inclusion in the DSM’s most recent edition has led to an increase in awareness about binge eating disorder. Recently, most mental health professionals can make a diagnosis after meeting with a  person and hearing their behavioral symptoms.

Who’s at the Highest Risk of Getting Binge Eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder can affect people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. It’s unusual among eating disorders in that the need for binge eating disorder recovery is almost as common in men as in women. It affects about two percent of men – and more than three percent of women in the US will develop binge eating disorder at some point in their lives. Binge eating disorder is also the most common eating disorder among Latinx, African-American and Asian-American women.

Mental health disorders are notoriously difficult to pinpoint – the causes vary from person to person, and there are rarely single causes. However, some factors have been identified. Some of these causes may include:

  • Past Trauma
  • Genetics
  • A history of Dieting
  • Stress, Depression or Anxiety (Co-Occurring Disorders)
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Negative Body Image
  • Perfectionism
  • Type 1 diabetes

In some studies, there was an indication that a pronounced tendency towards obesity, especially earlier in life, differentiates risk factors for binge eating disorder as compared to bulimia nervosa (which also includes binge eating episodes as a diagnostic criterion. The two disorders, and other common disorders like anorexia nervosa, share a common risk factor in body dysmorphia, or a pronounced dissatisfaction with their body image and a flawed perception of its attractiveness.

Finally, people in the LGBTQ community are at a higher risk of virtually every eating disorder. In some cases, discrimination or bullying has led to trauma. PTSD is among the most frequent triggers of disordered eating, and a larger percentage of LGBTQ individuals suffer from it than the general population. Trans people are also more prone to experiencing body dysmorphia due to the disconnect between their body and their true gender, as well as experiencing considerable discrimination.

For those interested in binge eating treatment, it is important to act quickly to prevent the weight gain, heart disease, and other health consequences of obesity that can come with binge eating disorder.

What Are the Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder?

The diagnostic criteria laid out by the DSM can be a little opaque; they’re meant for mental health professionals after all. However, for people who are concerned about their body image and eating habits (or people close to them), there are various signs that binge eating disorder is a possibility.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Fluctuating weight or sudden weight gain
  • Eating meals faster than normal
  • Eating large meals despite not being hungry
  • Keeping hidden food
  • Trying to hide wrappers or other food trash
  • Eating alone or in hiding
  • Feeling depressed, guilty, or disgusted after eating
  • Anxiety

If a family member is showing any or all of these symptoms, it’s an indication they are at risk for binge eating disorder. It’s worth trying to have an open, honest conversation – without judgment or accusations –with them about their eating habits. Take special note if they express feelings that they can’t control when or how much they eat, or if they constantly diet but never lose weight. Always be understanding and supportive – your job is to help, not to criticize.

Binge Eating Treatment Options

Binge eating disorder treatment is similar to other eating disorder treatment programs in that it aims to eliminate disordered behaviors and prepare the individual to return to life, fully recovered and healthier. People interested in binge eating treatment can usually choose from several different levels of care including day treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and residential programs. Normally speaking, insurance can cover much if not all the cost of treatment.

Some of the types of therapy an individual might undergo during eating disorder treatment include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been proven useful in treating other forms of mental health illness such as addiction and depression and has become a central component of many eating disorder recovery programs. CBT can be understood as a type of talk therapy that also serves as cognitive retraining.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is similar to CBT in that it involves identifying certain negative emotions, however, it is less focused on altering negative emotions. One of the key components of this type of therapy is for an individual to stop denying and avoiding their inner emotions.
  • This type of therapy is a slightly altered form of CBT that puts its focus on dealing with difficult situations in a positive fashion. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) builds on the principles previously outlined in CBT. DBT focuses on the ways one person’s emotions can be roused more quickly or intensely than another’s, and how to harness or allay the intense negative emotions.

Consider Binge Eating Treatment Programs

It’s a no-brainer to seek out a binge eating disorder treatment program that is designed to give people the tools they need to overcome their disordered behaviors and embrace life after recovery. There are specialized programs for every age, gender, and social situation, and it’s more than medical treatment; it’s a chance to reclaim your life.

With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.