Seven Facts About Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is a severe and life-threatening disorder that is often overlooked. This is an unfortunate fact as this disorder is associated with numerous physical and mental consequences. Fortunately, binge eating disorder treatment, including specific binge eating counseling, can help. Binge eating disorder recovery is possible.

Binge eating disorder is a serious, but treatable eating disorder that is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food, usually very quickly. Binge eating is also connected to a feeling of loss of control and other negative emotions, such as shame, guilt and embarrassment.

About 1.2 percent of the population meets the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder. In fact, it is the most prevalent eating disorder in the U.S. In spite of this, more than 50 percent of people with binge eating disorder never receive treatment. This is likely because people don’t recognize the symptoms of binge eating disorder or don’t understand how dangerous it is.

Even though binge eating disorder does not involve purging or starvation, the consequences of this disorder can be just as dire as with other eating disorders. Complications of binge eating disorder may include kidney failure, high blood pressure, heart problems, stroke and death. The mortality rates for all eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, are higher than the general population. Psychiatric issues like depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety can often occur in conjunction with binge eating disorder.

To raise recognition of this disorder, we will detail some common facts about binge eating disorder below.

#1 Binge Eating Disorder Involves Frequent Episodes of Eating Large Amounts of Food

One of the defining features of binge eating disorder is frequent episodes, an average of at least two times per week, where a person consumes enormous amounts of food in a short period of time. A binge eating episode usually lasts over a span of two to three hours. During this time, the person may continue to eat very large amounts of food even if they are not hungry. They may also eat much faster than average. They will often continue to eat even after feeling physically uncomfortable. Other symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • A feeling of loss of control.The person may feel they cannot control how much or what they eat during the binge eating episodes.
  • Eating until uncomfortably full. A person may feel bloated or complain of other stomach issues because of the amount of food consumed.
  • Eating alone or refusing to eat with others. Because of embarrassment and shame, a person with this disorder may engage in binge eating episodes when they are alone or late at night when others are not around. A loved one may find evidence of binge eating, such as hidden food wrappers or containers.
  • Feeling extreme sadness, anxiety, guilt or disgust during or before a binge eating episode. The person may become irritable when confronted about the behavior.
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Although any food can be eaten during an episode, typical foods may include sweets, breads or baked goods. A person who engages in binge eating will often experience extreme distress after the binge. The loss of control often makes them feel guilty, worthless, ashamed or embarrassed.

#2 Overeating Is Just One Part Of Binge Eating Disorder  

Sometimes the words overeating and binge eating are used interchangeably. However, a binge eating disorder is not just about overeating. Nearly everyone consumes too many calories or eats too much food from time to time. What separates a binge eating disorder from overeating is that binge eating disorder involves recurrent episodes of binge eating. There must be at least one binge eating episode per week for three months for the disorder to be diagnosed. Additionally, the motivation to binge does not typically arise from the taste or smell of the food; instead, it is because of other, usually emotional reasons.

#3 Binge Eating Disorder Involves Feelings Of Loss Of Control

Binge eating disorder usually involves a sense of loss of control. A person with this disorder may feel like they have no control over their behavior during the episodes. The lack of control may cause feelings of guilt or depression, which in turn increases the likelihood of another binge eating episode.

Feelings of disgust and self-hatred are common after a binge eating episode. The person may try to hide their binge eating episodes because of these emotions. However, this does not mean a person with a binge eating disorder lacks willpower. In fact, people with binge eating disorders tend to be perfectionistic. The lack of control during a binge eating episode leads to significant emotional distress, which can trigger binge eating behaviors and lead to a cycle of binge eating episodes.

#4 Binge Eating Disorder Often Involves Secretive Behaviors

People with binge-eating disorder often feel ashamed and embarrassed about  bingeing. Therefore, there are often secretive behaviors associated with the disorder. Here are some actions that may be associated with binge eating disorder:

  • Eating alone
  • Eating large amounts of food after everyone else has gone to bed
  • Avoiding eating in front of others
  • Hiding large amounts of food or evidence of a binge
  • Making secret runs to a restaurant or grocery store

#5 Binge Eating Episodes May Be Triggered By Stress

Studies have found that binge eating is more likely to occur during times of stress. A person with binge eating disorder may use this behavior to cope with painful emotions. Emotions like worry, dissatisfaction, hopelessness, depression and anger often proceed binge-eating episodes.

#6 Binge Eating Disorder Has Serious Consequences

Binge eating disorder is a severe psychiatric disorder that requires treatment. Not only does binge eating disorder affect a person’s quality of life, but it can also have severe physical and mental health consequences and complications. Here are some of the health conditions associated with binge eating disorder:

  • Ruptured stomach
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Stomach pain and bloating
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Insomnia
  • Increased risk of heart problems and heart attack
  • Kidney problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Gallbladder disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Arthritis or issues with the joints
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-harm or suicidal ideation

Binge eating disorder has been found to be significantly associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The risk is even more significant if a person has a mood or other psychiatric disorder.

The chance of experiencing grave consequences from binge eating disorder can be reduced with appropriate and timely therapy.

#7 There Are Effective Treatments for Binge Eating Disorder

Many people do not think binge eating disorder needs to be treated. They may think all a person needs to do is eat less. This idea is simply not accurate. Binge eating disorder is not only about food; it involves emotional distress and feelings of loss of control and these issues must be treated. Simply eating less will do nothing to address these other feelings and symptoms. Those struggling with this disorder need binge eating counseling to help address these issues  Binge eating disorder treatment may include

  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral skills training theory
  • Meal planning and nutritional treatment
  • Movement therapy
  • Relaxation skills training
  • Family therapy
  • Medications
  • Nursing and physician care
  • Relapse prevention and aftercare
  • Medical testing and assessments

As a general rule, binge eating disorder treatment should include both psychiatric and medical care. It should also incorporate nutritional and movement therapy into the program.

The specific treatment depends on each person’s needs and other medical and mental health conditions they might be experiencing. If a person also has mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse, these should be addressed in treatment.

How To Get Help For Binge Eating Disorder

There are several levels of care for eating disorders, including:

  • Outpatient Treatment:This treatment takes place in a community setting. It is ideal for someone who has mild symptoms of binge eating disorder.
  • Day Treatment: Day treatment programs usually involve either intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization treatment. The person continues to participate in outpatient therapy while they are engaged in a day treatment program. A day treatment program is ideal for someone who needs an intense level of support and wants to continue to attend school or work or an individual who is stepping down from a residential level of treatment. The person would engage in daily treatment in a community setting. Treatment might involve psychotherapy, family therapy, group therapy, medication management, nutritional therapy and skills training. Day treatment programs may incorporate meal planning, grocery store and restaurant outings. These therapies provide the person with a chance to practice using life skills to cope with situations and activities that might generally trigger binge eating episodes.
  • Supervised Living: This is a step-down treatment program from a residential level of care and typically takes place in a supervised environment that is supportive and focused on eating disorder recovery. After a person has met their treatment goals in residential treatment, they may participate in this type of program. This level of care, combined with a day treatment program, provides support to a person as they learn to utilize coping skills in their everyday life. Supervised living can help a person with binge eating disorder develop a natural relationship with food and improve their body image and overall well-being.
  • Residential Treatment:Residential treatment is a comprehensive, safe, live-in treatment program. It usually involves access to 24-hour medical care, medication monitoring and assessment, nutritional counseling, individual and family therapy, binge eating counseling and comprehensive aftercare.

The appropriate level of care depends on the person’s general health and severity of the eating disorder. With the right binge eating disorder recovery treatment and support, a person can become fully-recovered from binge eating disorder.