Binge Eating Disorder

Understanding and Managing the Condition

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Characteristics and Diagnosis
Binge Eating Disorder is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent binge episodes. A binge is characterized by two things: (1) eating, in a distinct period of time, an amount of food that surpasses what most people would eat in a similar time period and circumstances; and (2) feeling a lack of control over eating during that time (e.g., feeling like you “can’t stop” or “can’t control” what/how much you’re eating).

When Binge Eating Disorder was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. (DSM-5) in 2013, established that the disorder is based on the following symptoms:

1. Recurrent episodes of binge eating

2. Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:
  • eating much more rapidly than normal
  • eating until uncomfortably full
  • eating large amounts when not physically hungry
  • eating alone due to embarrassment about eating habits
  • feeling disgusted, guilty, or depressed after an episode
3. Marked distress regarding the binge eating episodes

4. Binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for three or more months

Although binge eating does occur in both anorexia and bulimia, it is the lack of compensatory behaviors (e.g., vomiting, over-exercise, abusing laxatives) that qualify one for a diagnosis of Binge Eating Disorder. If a person is regularly (one or more times a week) using compensatory behaviors after bingeing, they are better classified and treated as someone suffering from anorexia or bulimia.
Additional Symptoms and Signs
People with Binge Eating Disorder may also show other symptoms, such as:
  • Rapid weight gain (while many with BED are overweight or obese, this is not always true)
  • Depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders
  • Eating normally while with others, then bingeing in secret
  • Social withdrawal
  • Medical complications, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes
What Causes Binge Eating Disorder? Who is at risk?

Binge Eating Disorder is a relatively new diagnosis in the DSM-5, only becoming an “official” diagnosis in 2013. As such, research on this topic (and funding for such research) has been limited until now. But the preliminary research suggests that, like all eating disorders, binge eating disorder is not caused by any one thing, but by a combination of things. The different factors that may contribute to developing binge eating disorder include:

  • Genetics/biology
  • Experiences of weight-related discrimination and/or bullying
  • History of dieting or irregular eating patterns
  • Significant trauma/loss
  • Physical/sexual abuse