While most people are familiar with common eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder has only recently been formally recognized as a separate condition. Although those with a diagnosis of binge eating disorder share many similar symptoms as those with other eating disorders, some unique differences cause this condition to break all of the traditional “rules” associated with disordered eating behaviors. Keep reading to learn more about the condition below.
What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common type of eating disorder in the United States today and is characterized by recurring periods of excessive overeating. It can affect both men and women, as well as people of all ages, genders, races, and cultural backgrounds. However, the condition most often develops during adolescence or early adulthood. Studies suggest that BED affects around 3.5 percent of women in the US and 2 percent of men. Those diagnosed with the condition often experience feelings of low self-esteem, negative body image, and they may also experience co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety.
While everyone overeats on occasion, say at a holiday or celebratory meal, BED is different. When someone with this condition binge eats, they often do so compulsively, even when they aren’t hungry and typically eat until they feel uncomfortable. A binge-eating episode may be followed by feelings of shame, guilt, disgust, and embarrassment. The cycle of binge eating can be a way for people to deal with emotional stress and is often the symptom of another underlying mental health condition.
Why Is Binge Eating Disorder Different?
Unlike those with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, people diagnosed with binge eating disorder do not actively try to prevent weight gain or participate in any purging behaviors. This means that there isn’t any use of common food elimination techniques like self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretics use, fasting or excessive exercising associated with binge eating disorder.
Because of this unique fact, there is a wealth of other health concerns that come along with a binge eating diagnosis. Most often those with this type of eating disorder are at risk of becoming obese and developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels and can greatly impact one’s quality of life. However, binge eating disorder occurs in people with average body weight and shape as well.
What Are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder?
In addition to recurring and persistent binge-eating episodes, people with binge eating disorder may also:
- Experience difficulties concentrating throughout the day.
- Diet frequently, even if they find it difficult to maintain their diets or reach their “goal” weight.
- Hoard or hide food in their bedroom or other “safe” places around the home and at work.
- Experience feelings of panic, anxiety, and despair. Or generally lack focus when completing daily activities.
- Engage in disruptive eating habits that may include no set meal times, only taking very small portions at regular mealtimes, skipping meals altogether, engaging in sporadic fasting, and patterns of yo-yo dieting.
- Feel like their eating behaviors are out of control but unsure how to stop them.
- Skip special events and regular activities that they used to enjoy for fear of eating in front of others.
- Plan binge meals and buy special foods in advance. Making time in their schedule for a binge.
- Create a lifestyle that revolves around food, meal preparation, food rituals, and binge eating.
- Showing increasing concern with body weight and shape. Expresses feelings of disgust or shame surrounding their physical appearance.
- Eliminate entire food groups or only eating a specific type of food for each meal.
- Eat most meals alone out of embarrassment at the amount of food being consumed.
- Eat most meals in front of the television or on the computer, where the mind can wander, and they are unable to pay attention to how much they are consuming.
Long-Term Health Risks of Binge Eating Disorder
- Obesity is common for men and women with binge eating disorder. Because those with the condition avoid both positive and negative compensatory behaviors following an episode, it is typically very difficult for them to maintain a body weight that is deemed medically appropriate for their age, height, and stature.
- When people binge eat, they often choose foods that are high in sugars and fat but low in protein and fiber. This process can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes and while this condition can be medically managed, it is associated with many long-term health consequences.
- In addition to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, binge eating disorder has also been linked to other serious long-term health issues like heart disease, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, arthritis, and even certain cancers.
What Causes Binge Eating Disorder to Develop?
While researchers cannot pinpoint one specific cause for the development of eating disorders like BED, some of the known factors that may contribute include social pressures, a genetic predisposition, and other cultural and environmental factors. Trauma can present in many ways and result in a person developing coping skills that lead to binge eating behaviors. Research also suggests that BED affects men and women equally, unlike other common eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa—both of which tend to disproportionately affect women and young girls.
What Are the Options for Binge Eating Disorder Treatment?
If the condition is left untreated, the physical and mental health risks associated with binge eating disorder can be very serious if left untreated. That is why experts in the field recommend families and friends help facilitate an early intervention whenever possible. Not only is it common for those with BED to have issues with their body image but the lack of self-control that they often experience can easily cause issues in other areas of their lives as well. Often, those who have been diagnosed with binge eating disorder have problems in school, at work, and in their close relationships.
Additionally, if a person has co-occurring mental health disorders like depression or substance abuse issues, the effects of binge eating disorder can become much more extreme as time goes on. Trying to navigate these co-occurring conditions without professional guidance can make it difficult to understand their emotions and eventually lead to an increased reliance on binge eating as a coping mechanism.
For individuals who have been diagnosed with binge eating disorder, there are reputable outpatient eating disorder treatment and residential eating disorder programs available that are designed to provide a tailored experience. However, depending on each person’s needs, one type of program may offer a better structure than the other.
Some of the most common options for binge eating disorder treatment include:
In residential treatment programs, individuals will benefit from a controlled environment that can help them break free from their compulsive binge eating behaviors. These types of treatment communities offer a very supportive environment, where clients are encouraged to take advantage of peer support groups as well as counseling from licensed therapists and medical monitoring as needed.
Residential treatment also provides clients with access to a safe environment that is far away from the responsibilities of their daily life at home. Here, all treatments and counseling sessions are closely monitored by both mental health professionals and medical staff to help accelerate the recovery process as well.
Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment
Outpatient or day treatment programs are ideal for helping people who may have already completed a residential treatment program but can still greatly benefit from group support and additional structure. This is also a good treatment option for anyone who cannot take away time from outside responsibilities like work and school, or anyone who finds themselves commit to a residential treatment program. Having access to an outpatient care program allows those in recovery to slowly transition back into their routine after completing residential treatment.
Outpatient therapy can be a good choice for those who have completed a residential program and may still be learning how to utilize their positive coping skills and personal support systems in the outside world. And because participants can still take part in work commitments, school or other day-to-day activities, they can implement these new tools under the guidance of their outpatient counselors. Outpatient binge eating disorder treatment is flexible, often more affordable, and works to help individuals slowly transition back into their daily routines.
While choosing a reputable eating disorder recovery program is extremely important, it’s also a good idea for people with BED to research the many different therapy options available to them. The most common evidence-based therapies used to treat BED and other common eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT — This form of psychological treatment has been effective in treating a wide range of mental health disorders, including BED. With this type of therapy, people learn to change their negative thinking patterns, replacing them with new strategies for solving problems.
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy or IPT — Initially developed for treating people with depression, IPT works by focusing on interpersonal difficulties in a person’s life, finding the connections between these issues and their disordered eating habits. Treatment consists of 3 phases and typically lasts for about 20 weeks.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT — This is another type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that was originally developed to help treat suicidal individuals who were diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. This “dialectal” treatment helps clients and therapists work together to balance positive change with acceptance. Participants are encouraged to accept themselves as they are and work towards finding the motivation to change for the better.
While each of these different treatment programs and therapies can be effective in treating common eating disorders like BED, there is no “one size fits all” approach to eating disorder recovery. That’s why it is essential for those with an eating disorder diagnosis and their loved ones to do research on these conditions and remember that recovery is often a long process. But together with the help of experienced professional treatment and a strong support system at home people can learn to create positive habits surrounding food and their bodies—and there is hope for a future free from disordered eating habits.
Eating Disorder Recovery at Oliver-Pyatt Centers
Binge eating disorder is unique in that those with the condition don’t follow “typical” eating disorder behaviors. Those with the condition may even see a significant amount of time pass before they realize that there is something wrong with their eating habits. And while there are many potentially life-threatening health effects associated with binge eating disorder, it is possible to enjoy a successful recovery for those who seek professional treatment and ongoing counseling. Whether a residential treatment program is possible or committing to outpatient care is the best option for those with ongoing work and school commitments, early intervention is often a key factor in the recovery process.
At Oliver-Pyatt Centers, we are proud to provide our clients with access to the highest level of psychiatric and medical care outside of a hospital setting. We are dedicated to helping our clients and their families find the tools they need to navigate the binge eating disorder recovery process. Interested in learning more about the eating disorder recovery services we offer? Please give us a call at 1.866.511.4325 to speak with one of our friendly admissions specialists or contact us today for more information.