Binge eating disorder is a severe, but treatable eating disorder characterized by episodes of over eating. These recurrent episodes are also accompanied by a feeling of lack of control and distress with eating.
In this blog piece, we will discuss what binge eating disorder is, symptoms necessary for diagnosis, possible etiologies of this disorder, associated health risks, and available treatment options.
What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder is a serious eating disorder characterized by episodes during which you eat an amount of food that is significantly more than another individual would consume during the same time period. These episodes are accompanied by a lack of control during eating, followed by immediate distress over the eating. Unlike some eating disorders, binge eating disorder is not usually accompanied by compensatory behaviors such as purging or exercising.
What are the symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder?
The general symptoms of binge eating disorder are episodes of overeating accompanied by lack of control and distress. Individuals suffering with this disorder also often experience shame about their eating habits. Due to this shame, binge eating disorder can be difficult to detect. Presence of depression like symptoms and weight fluctuation can be clues.
Other Symptoms of binge eating disorder usually include:
· Episodes occur at least once a week for three months
· Lack of control during binge eating episodes
· Eating more quickly, eating until discomfort, eating even when not hungry
· Feeling shame or guilt about overeating
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, speak with your doctor. They will likely refer you to a specialized therapist who will be able to establish a diagnosis and walk you through the treatment options available.
What causes Binge Eating Disorder?
The exact etiology of binge eating disorder is not entirely understood. Experts think it is a multi-factorial process that leads to the development of the disorder.
Possible causes of binge eating disorder include:
· Biological factors: hormonal abnormalities, changes in parts of the brain that are responsible for impulsivity, hereditary genetics
· Psychiatric comorbidities: binge eating disorder is more common in those individuals with other psychiatric diagnosis such as depression and anxiety. These individuals are more susceptible to body image scrutiny, difficulty coping, and low self-esteem.
· Social factors: many, though not all, individuals with binge eating disorder may have experienced a traumatic event that triggers and exacerbates this disorder
What are the health risks associated with Binge Eating disorder?
Just like with any other disorder, health risks and complications are possible from binge eating disorder. Even though it is a mental health diagnosis, binge eating disorder can lead an individual to develop other physical conditions.
Complications of binge eating disorder include:
· Other psychological illnesses such as depression and anxiety
· Elevated cholesterol
· Cardiovascular disease
· Type II diabetes mellitus
· Sleep abnormalities
· Gastrointestinal complications
How is Binge Eating Disorder diagnosed?
If you or someone you know is experiencing the above symptoms or complications of binge eating disorder, schedule a visit with your doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a therapist, or another individual specializing in this field, if they believe you will benefit from a formal diagnosis and treatment.
You can likely expect the following from a consultation and evaluation with your health professional:
· Your health professional will collect a full history, including physical and psychiatric health histories
· Your health professional will ask you to explain your symptoms and episodes and will inquire about how long these symptoms have lasted
· Your health professional will evaluate you for possible complications of binge eating disorder
· Your health professional will assess your nutritional status such as your food choices and physical activity
If your health professional believes you have symptoms to meet a formal diagnosis of binge eating disorder, they can offer you a plethora of treatment options. You can both work together to decide which treatment option is best for you.
What is the treatment for Binge Eating Disorder?
Though binge eating disorder is a serious condition, treatment is available. Your health professional can help you decide which treatment is best for you after a thorough evaluation. Sometimes they will advise a combination of different treatment options.
Treatment options for binge eating disorder include:
· -Behavioral weight loss therapy
Psychotherapy is a common practice in psychiatry and is the first-line treatment for binge eating disorder. Examples of psychotherapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Psychotherapy helps individuals understand the thoughts that influence their behaviors and can also teach individuals skills to cope with their thoughts and emotions.
Behavioral weight loss therapy:
Behavioral weight loss therapy is a type of treatment that focuses on activities that can provide weight loss such as exercise and diet programs.
Certain medications can be beneficial in binge eating disorder. These types of medications are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and are used as treatment for other conditions such as depression and anxiety as well.
What other techniques are often recommended in conjunction to either psychotherapy, behavioral weight loss therapy, or pharmacotherapy?
Health professionals specializing in binge eating disorder are able to work with you to decide what treatment option is best. They will often suggest other exercises to provide for a more comprehensive healing process.
Other practices backed up by research include but are not limited to:
· studying your triggers: this will often help you identify the signs leading to an episode of binge eating. Knowing the signs can help you prevent the episode.
· making dinner arrangements: organizing what and when you expect to eat can help you manage the amount you consume
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Binge Eating Disorder:
1. How do I know if I have binge eating disorder?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms noted above, specifically episodes of binge eating during which you feel ashamed or anxious, you can benefit from discussing these symptoms with your doctor.
Am I alone in binge eating disorder or is it common?
3.5% of American women have binge eating disorder. 2% of American men have it. 1.6% of adolescents have it.
3. Is it binge eating disorder or is it over eating?
Binge eating and overeating may appear as interchangeable terms. The distinctions, however, are important. Binge eating is associated with a feeling of anxiety, shame, and loss of control. People experiencing binge eating will usually eat to the point of physical pain, whereas those experiencing overeating do not. Those with binge eating disorder often tend to binge eat alone or in secrecy, while those who overeat do not.
Am I at risk for developing binge eating disorder?
Binge eating disorder is more common in women than in men. It is also more common in individuals who have family members affected. Other contributing factors might be traumatic experiences. If you are an individual with other mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, you might be at higher risk.
5. At what age do people generally develop binge eating disorder?
Binge eating disorder usually surfaces in the late teen years to early twenties. Older and younger people can be affected, however.
6. Does obesity put me at risk for binge eating disorder?
Though most people with obesity do not have the disorder, many that do have it tend to be obese.
7. How is binge eating disorder different from bulimia?
Though binge eating episodes are common in both binge eating disorder and bulimia, the episodes in bulimia are usually followed by compensatory behaviors such as purging and/or exercising. The episodes in binge eating disorder are not followed by such behaviors
8. Is there a link between binge eating disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder?
Some experts believe that the reason individuals binge eat in binge eating disorder is to relieve anxiety. The same is true for obsessive compulsive disorder, in which individuals carry out specific functions to help alleviate stress. Research does say there may be a link between the two disorders.
9. What other health conditions are associated with binge eating disorder?
During the episodes of binging, the individual may consume excess calories of unhealthy foods. Repeated episodes can cause the individual to develop other health conditions. These include type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal conditions.
Is binge eating disorder treatable?
Binge eating disorder is a serious condition, but treatment options are available. Many find that with commitment and treatment they are able to overcome this disorder.
11. Can medication cure me of binge eating disorder?
Medication is available for binge eating disorder. This group of medication is called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This medication increases the level of serotonin in your brain, which can help with a variety of psychiatric disorders. Though this medication is available, it is not a quick-fix treatment for binge eating disorder. Many doctors will use the medication as a last resort, or will combine the medication with other forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
12. Are there any side effects of the SSRI medications sometimes used to treat binge eating disorder?
As with any medication, side effects do exist with using SSRI. These include but are not limited to, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, insomnia, dry mouth, dizziness.
Want to learn more about binge eating disorder? Try these books!
The Diet Survivor’s Handbook
This book is written by specialists treating binge eating disorder, offering the lessons they have learned from their patients and brief exercises you can do at home.
Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating
This is another book written by experts in the field. This book explores the concept of mindfulness and how it can be applied to your relationship with food. People with binge eating disorder often don’t have the best relationships with their bodies. This book teaches you how to accept yourself and develop a health relationship with yourself.
The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT
This book is not specifically targeted at binge eating disorder. It does however show how to manage the many challenges life presents. It discusses how many people fall into the happiness trap, a trap they create when they feel stressed but put on a happy face trying to prove everything is ok. This can act as an excellent resource for someone who is currently dealing with binge eating disorder.
It’s Not about Fodd: End Your Obsession with Food and Weight
This book delves deeper into eating disorders and dissects what other factors may be contributing. It gives readers the push they may need to not only take care of their bodies, but their mind as well.
Have more questions or comments about Binge Eating Disorder? Post below!
National Eating Disorders.org 2018
Binge Eating Disorder NationalEatingDisorders.org, 2018
Binge Eating Disorders in Adults: Overview of Treatment UpToDate 2019