Most everyone overeats from time to time, especially around the holidays when we celebrate our cultural traditions with some binge eating of Grammy's famous turkey and mashed potatoes. Or we spring for a wild weekend of eating takeout and (what feels like) binge eating. But there's a difference between an eating disorder—specifically binge eating disorder—and the tendency to overeat.
Binge eating disorder is not simply overeating. It is a condition wherein a person compulsively overeats or binges to mask other feelings of discomfort or shame because of an unhealthy relationship to food. And it's a serious medical condition that affects people's health, body image and self-esteem, and it deserves attention, support and professional help.
In the article to follow, we'll discuss the warning signs and symptoms, health risks and effects, and best plans to address binge eating disorder in healthy, non-punishing ways.
Binge eating disorder is a mental health disorder that revolves around frequent or compulsive overeating, and it involves a loss of control over eating and comes with clinically significant distress.
Unlike bulimia nervosa, which also involves binge eating, people with binge eating disorder do not undertake compensating efforts like induced vomiting, excessive exercise or misuse of laxatives. If someone experiences binges and then compensates with any of those measures listed, it's possible they have bulimia nervosa and not binge eating disorder.
Studies conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health show a lifetime prevalence of 2.8 percent of all American adults, with a 3.5 percent occurrence for women and a 2.0 percent occurrence for men.
The average age of onset is 25 years old for binge eating disorder, and nearly half of people with binge eating disorder (43.6 percent) are receiving treatment for their condition.
Why is any of that important? Because binge eating is common—the most common eating disorder in the United States—and treatable. You are not alone, and you deserve happiness and health.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), the signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder are:
Binge eating might be accompanied by distinct behavioral effects that indicate a disorder, and take a toll on a person's mental health, livelihood and relational satisfaction. Some of the binge eating behaviors and related patterns are:
It can be difficult to differentiate binge eating episodes from simple overeating. It's extraordinarily helpful to consult a health professional or specialist who has experience and training related to eating disorders and can distinguish between the different types of disordered eating.
Also, eating disorders often involve co-occurring medical concerns, and coordinating with a medical doctor and mental health professional for proper diagnosis and treatment to address those problems is extremely valuable for long-term health and happiness. Health complications might include:
Because of the nature of binge eating and other eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, there can be strong, unshakeable feelings of shame or disgust associated with binges. Even when a person understands that their binges and behaviors are out of their control, they may still feel embarrassed about their eating. Talking with a trusted medical professional or eating disorder specialist can start a person on their journey of understanding and empathy for themselves and their condition.
This is also where a person learns more about their triggers and finds new insights about their condition and how to control it. Techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy will allow someone to healthfully, consciously manage binges or eating episodes. The talk therapy techniques often used, either individually or in groups, include:
Plus teletherapy done over the phone or online is becoming more widely available, making help even more accessible.
In addition to therapy, there are a few practices people can use at home to lessen the cravings and help manage their eating:
If you have noticed unhealthy eating behaviors or suspect a potential eating disorder, please consult a professional to get expert advice and proper treatment. Disorders of all varieties are commonplace. Don't feel shame about any eating disorder—whether it's binge eating or bulimia nervosa—and don't let it affect your livelihood, self-esteem or happiness. Help is always here.