Eating Disorder Awareness: Binge Eating

Many people may only associate bingeing with bulimia but there is a new eating disorder recently accepted for inclusion in the DSM V that relates specifically to people who only experience the bingeing side of bulimia.  The new disorder, called Binge Eating Disorder (BED), is more common that anorexia or bulimia and affects about 5 million women and 3 million men in the U.S. according to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).  Unlike the other primary eating disorders, BED affects both genders and all races.

Although people with anorexia may also have bulimia, neither of those disorders co-exist with BED.  It is important to understand that although people with bulimia and people with BED both experience uncontrollable eating binges that are often followed by feelings of guilt and shame, the similarities end there.  In binge eating disorder, there is no purging which is why many of those with BED are overweight or obese.

What Binge Eating Disorder Looks Like

The main element of binge eating disorder is the ravenous cravings that drive those with the condition to binge, often in secret, at all times of the day and night.  People with this condition suffer from body image issues and may use food to handle emotional upset, stress, and other psychological problems.  It can be difficult, even for experts in eating disorders, to differentiate between binge eating and overeating.

  • Someone with BED will binge, eating large amounts of high calorie food in a short time frame which results in negative emotions and anxiety about weight gain.
  • Because people with the disorder don’t participate in other unhealthy behaviors to rid themselves of the extra calories, they gain weight, which feeds their negative self image and causes more emotional stress.
  • This starts the cycle all over again as they experience binge cravings to deal with the stress and unwanted emotions.

Binge eating disorder is not characterized by an occasional episode of overeating, but rather by a compulsion to eat in order to satisfy the specific cravings currently being experienced.

The Real Dangers of Binge Eating Disorder

For people with binge eating disorder the real danger is that bingeing will result in obesity and the person will face the myriad of associated health problems including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, gall bladder disease, heart disease, and cancer.  Additionally, people who have binge eating disorder have a higher incidence of some mental illnesses like depression.  The negative emotions and secretive behaviors that are part of the disorder can also make those with the condition feel isolated and alone especially when combined with the societal pressures of being overweight in a world where you are supposed to be thin, to diet, and to lose weight.

How You Can Help

The best way to help someone with an eating disorder is to be understanding, supportive, and patient as they work through their recovery.  For people with binge eating disorder, the prognosis is good.  ANAD indicates that some initial studies into the treatment of BED show a 50% remission rate with medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.




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