Skip to main content

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a mental health illness that is classified as an eating disorder, and is listed as such in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Binge eating disorder is currently known to be the most common eating disorder in America. The National Eating Disorder Association (NIDA) define binge eating disorder as “severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g. purging) to counter the binge eating.” If left untreated, binge eating disorder and its associated symptoms could result in an individual developing severe short and long-term physiological consequences. 

Signs and Symptoms

There are a variety of signs and symptoms that could manifest in an individual struggling with binge eating disorder. Examples of common signs and symptoms could include any combination of the following, as provided by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating in secret
  • Eating alone
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Feeling ashamed, depressed, disgusted, and/ or guilty about eating
  • Frequent dieting, possibly without weight loss
  • Feeling out of control with regard to one’s eating behaviors

While most individuals diagnosed with binge eating disorder are overweight or obese, an individual could remain in the normal weight-range and still struggle with BED. 

Treatment

The first step in treating binge eating disorder is to obtain a proper diagnosis from a qualified medical and/ or mental healthcare provider. However, it can be helpful to understand the general diagnostic criteria of BED, which according to the DSM-5 include:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, which is characterized by both:
    • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode
    • Excessively overeating (an amount that is greater than the norm) in a short period of time (e.g. within a two hour period)
  • Binge eating episodes include three (or more) of the following:
    • Eating large amounts of food when not hungry
    • Eating far more rapidly than normal
    • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
    • Feeling ashamed, depressed, guilty and/ or disgusted with oneself after eating
    • Eating alone due to embarrassment related to the quantity of food consumed
  • Marked distress regarding binge eating behavior
  • Binge eating episodes occur (on average) at least once a week for three months
  • No engagement of unhealthy compensatory behaviors after binge eating (e.g. purging)

Every individual is different and will be faced with nuanced challenges and unique needs when it comes to treating BED. Hence, it is common practice for binge eating disorder treatment plans to be tailored and include customized combinations of various therapeutic approaches so as to ensure all of the individual’s specific needs a fully accommodated. Treatment plans could comprise of any combination of the following components:

Depending on one’s specific needs it is not uncommon to emphasize establishing healthy daily habits, such as obtaining ample nightly sleep, practicing regular mindfulness techniques (i.e. yoga, meditation, etc.), and engaging in health daily exercise. Recovering from binge eating disorder will be a life-long journey, but with the proper guidance, continued commitment, and support, an individual diagnosed with BED can go on to live a healthy and fulfilling life.