Eight Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Binge Eating Disorder

In the world of eating disorder recovery, the traditionally well-known disorders bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa have received the lion’s share of notoriety. Because binge eating disorder doesn’t typically include the dramatic weight loss of anorexia nervosa or the easily identifiable purging symptoms of bulimia nervosa, it is often overlooked by non-clinical experts in the general population. The need for binge eating disorder recovery is every bit as important as the need for treating the more popularized disorders.

The potential health risks and consequences of binge eating disorder are manifold – they can combine the complications of deteriorating health with the disordered thinking and nutritional imbalance of bulimia nervosa to create a maelstrom of difficulties for those in need of binge eating counseling. Even beyond the health risks, experts at eating disorder recovery centers have noted the emotional distress that comes with the disorder can disrupt a person’s life in a variety of ways.

Why Should I Pay Attention to Binge Eating Counseling?

If you are reading this, chances are very strong you or someone you know has struggled with binge eating disorder. It is worthwhile to have a deeper understanding of binge eating disorder, perhaps the most misunderstood of the major eating disorders. Here are eight facts about binge eating disorder you may not have known.

  1. Binge eating disorder affects all races and ethnicities

There is still a perception that eating disorders only affect upper-class white women, and that attitude does a real disservice to the millions of people of color who share a strong need for eating disorder recovery assistance. Binge eating disorder and other disorders concerning body image and troubled relationships with food and eating affect far more races and ethnicities than the common perception may suggest.

Thankfully, new voices like Gloria Lucas and her organization, Nalgona Positivity Pride are pushing back against those outdated stereotypes. This organization and others help people of various races from Latin to Native American discuss their experiences with body-shaming, obsessive dieting and dissatisfied self-image in an inclusive way. This trend, as it grows can help men and women from underserved populations in terms of binge eating disorder recovery gain better access to help and support for their disorders.

  1. Binge eating disorder is closely related to dieting

Many people assume since binge eating episodes are part and parcel of the disorder, BED is a kind of “reverse” eating disorder, where people simply can’t stop eating. Certainly, a sense of losing control over eating during those episodes often occurs in people who find they require binge eating counseling; however, that idea doesn’t tell the whole story.

In most every case of binge eating disorder, the individual struggles with a negative body image and their weight. Engaging in fad diets, such as Atkins or paleo, is extremely common with people who have BED. In a way, the cycle of controlling what is eaten and then losing that control is an encapsulation of binge eating disorder.

  1. Binge eating disorder affects men almost as much as women

The vast majority of people in eating disorder recovery programs are women, and it is well known that diseases such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa affect women disproportionately. It is almost a cliché that eating disorder treatment is only for women. However, binge eating disorder affects men in much higher proportion than other common eating disorders.

Men may account for as much as 40 percent of the total cases of binge eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). Because of the general feeling that eating disorders don’t affect men, there are some social stigmas to overcome for men when it comes to openly discussing their disorders and seeking help in treating them. However, the many health risks that are associated with BED and obesity can cut short men’s lives as easily as women’s, so families must be aware of how common this disorder is in men.

  1. Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States

According to NEDA, 3.5 percent of women and 2.0 percent of men experience binge eating disorder at some point in their lives, making it far and away the most common eating disorder in the United States (and it shows similar frequency in the UK and Europe as well). That makes it more than three times as common as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa combined, despite those disorders being more well-known in general.

Those percentages make binge eating disorder one of the most major health concerns in the United States overall, not just in terms of eating disorders. BED has a higher incidence than HIV or schizophrenia. It is even more common than breast cancer. With continued efforts from the psychological and eating disorder recovery communities, we can hope that public awareness of this common disorder is raised, and this national health concern can be better addressed.

  1. Binge eating disorder was not recognized until recently

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), which is the official listing of mental health, behavioral, and psychiatric disorders has listed bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa for decades. On the other hand, although it is the most common eating disorder by the numbers, binge eating disorder wasn’t officially recognized as an eating disorder until 2013. The recognition is a big step to raising the awareness of BED not only among the general public but also for the medical community.

By gaining official recognition in the DSM-5, binge eating disorder is more likely to be recognized by family practitioners, family and child psychologists and other medical professionals. That can lead to earlier diagnosis and intervention, which can in turn help to prevent the health risks that come with the disorder. As with treating any behavioral disorder, binge eating recovery can be a long process with a dedicated program geared towards correcting disordered thoughts and behaviors – getting started early makes the recovery easier.

  1. Food insecurity is linked to binge eating disorder

Despite the way it sounds, food insecurity doesn’t refer to a person’s relationship with food and their bodies. Instead, it refers to the inability to afford or secure a healthy, balanced, and nutritious diet. Commonly associated with poverty, food insecurity is also closely linked with “food deserts,” when affordable, nutritious foods are simply not available in poorer neighborhoods. It has been established for years now that obesity and its attendant complications (i.e. heart disease, diabetes) are more common in economically disadvantaged populations.

The double tragedy here is that these populations are generally less able to afford professional mental health treatment and eating disorder recovery programs as well. With further awareness of binge eating disorder, more affordable programs such as day treatment or outpatient binge eating counseling may be able to make a difference. However, food insecurity and the inability to procure nutritious foods leads into our next point regarding BED, namely…

  1. Binge eating episodes usually revolve around “forbidden” foods

As mentioned earlier, incidences of binge eating disorder are often associated with a history of fad or yo-yo dieting. In many of these diets, certain foods are a strict no-go. These foods usually include what are called “junk” foods which tend to be heavy on starches and fats. When sticking to these diets, people with BED will often cut out entire categories of food, even if they are part of a balanced diet. However, this denial of certain kinds of foods make them even more likely to be hoarded and binge-eaten in secret.

When eaten to excess during a binge eating episode (which normally is defined as eating a large amount of food in two or less hours; a “large amount” can vary from person to person but it is generally accepted that it means more than is required to satiate), they can produce an overload of “empty” calories with minimal nutritional value. This causes a feeling of guilt and shame in the individual, and if they’re currently on a diet, can reinforce a cycle of public dieting and private binge eating episodes.

  1. Binge eating disorder is underdiagnosed

A common practice among people who are working on weight management contact a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to learn about balancing their meals and nutrition. RDN report that around 30 percent of the people they consult with regarding weight management also show clear signs of binge eating disorder, but have never received or even asked for a diagnosis. RDN are experts in nutritional balance, but not necessarily trained in psychiatry or behavioral health, which means they cannot make such a diagnosis alone.

This means binge eating disorder treatment can begin with an RDN, but requires a multidisciplinary team including medical doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists. By the time a full diagnosis of BED can be made, the individual may have been having binge eating episodes in secret for years. These kinds of long-term habits and the guilt and embarrassment that drive secrecy around them can be very difficult to break – but there is always hope.

Awareness and Openness Are the Keys to Binge Eating Recovery

Too often dismissed as a “lack of willpower” or “simple overeating” by those who aren’t aware of the severity of the disorder, binge eating disorder is a serious mental health illness that can have dire health consequences. As well as blood sugar imbalances leading to type 2 diabetes, BED is linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks and arrhythmia, sleep apnea, strokes and many other conditions. As we have seen, far too many people that struggle with frequent dieting and poor body image are not even aware they have the disorder or are unwilling to seek help for it out of a sense of shame.

Oliver-Pyatt Centers provide comprehensive care for binge eating disorder as well as other eating disorders in a home-like environment that provides the highest levels of care available outside a hospital setting. Our empathetic and professional staff are experienced in providing non-judgmental care, which can help assuage those feelings of shame and bring treatment to the forefront in an honest and open way. Call today at (866) 511-4325 if you or a loved one is struggling with binge eating disorder, and speak to our admissions team to get started on a happier, recovered 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.