Understanding Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by consuming extremely large amounts of food within a short time frame. These episodes of overeating are called binges. Urges to binge are often compulsive. People with BED typically feel out of control during a binge. BED does not involve compensatory behaviors.

What is Binge Eating Disorder (BED)?

People struggling with binge eating disorder (BED) experience repeated overeating episodes. Typically, they consume huge amounts of food in a short time span.

These overeating episodes, or binges, are typically compulsive, meaning the person struggling with BED feels out of control during them. Binges often occur when the person does not feel hungry. Those with BED may also eat past the point of fullness to a point where they are uncomfortable.

Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa in that the person affected will develop feelings of guilt and shame after binging. However, unlike bulimia, BED does not include  purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or overexercising.

Binge eating disorder is much more serious and severe than simply overeating. Many people will eat past the point of satisfaction on occasion. Those with BED frequently eat extremely large quantities of food.

Binge Eating Disorder and the DSM-5

Binge eating disorder is the most prevalent eating disorder in the United States.

In the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), BED was formally recognized as an eating disorder. Due to the change, more insurance companies  will now cover treatment for this disorder.

The DSM-5 includes criteria that must be met to reach a binge eating disorder diagnosis.

These criteria are:

  • Recurring binges in which a person overeats within a two hour period or eats an amount of food much greater than what most people would eat in that time
  • Feelings of loss of control during binges
  • Binging is not accompanied by compensatory behaviors (self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, over-exercising, etc.)
  • Binges occur at least once a week over the span of three months or longer

The DSM-5 notes that binges have the following characteristics:

  • Eating extremely fast
  • Eating much past the point of fullness
  • Overeating when not hungry
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment over the quantity of food eaten
  • Feelings of shame and guilt after the binge

Binge Eating Signs & Symptoms

Many people overeat on occasion. However, there are many signs that may reveal whether you or someone you love is struggling with binge eating disorder.

Emotional Signs

  • Low self-esteem
  • Constant preoccupation with body weight or shape
  • Fear of eating around others
  • Feelings of loss of control when overeating
  • Feelings of guilt and disgust after overeating

Behavioral Signs

  • Eating alone due to embarrassment of the amount of food eaten
  • Having food rules and rituals, such as excessive chewing or only eating at certain times
  • Planning daily routines to account for binge episodes
  • Having abnormal eating behaviors, such as skipping mealtimes or overeating at night
  • Having large amounts of food wrappers or containers
  • Eliminating entire food groups from diet
  • Adopting different or abnormal meal plans or diets
  • Stealing or hoarding food
  • Withdrawal from friends and social activities
  • Frequent “body checking” in the mirror to monitor perceived weight loss or gain

Physical Signs

  • Noticeable increases and decreases in weight
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems and stomach cramps
  • Trouble concentrating

Timeline of the Disorder

Episodes of binge eating may start due to prolonged periods of dieting or various mental and emotional stressors. For example, a person may use binges as a way to cope with stress, depression, anxiety and more.

At first, the binges may not occur frequently. These early binges still create feelings of shame and distress in the person with BED. However, the person is less likely to worry about them if they just happen occasionally.

In time, the binge eating episodes occur more and more often. The DSM-5 explains that binges must occur at least once a week for at least three months to indicate binge eating. This quickly becomes the case for those struggling with BED.

As the binges happen more frequently, any enjoyment surrounding the binge is diminished. For example, a person with BED may at first really enjoy the delicious foods they are consuming. Eventually, however, the binges are no longer a novel experience and the food stops tasting  good to them.

The binges soon become the person’s way to cope with negative feelings and emotions. As the  disorder creates health issues for the person, all feelings of contentment surrounding the binges are lost. The person may even begin to feel depressed.

These negative feelings may spark a desire in those struggling with binge eating disorder to seek treatment. However, since people with BED feel a lack of control surrounding their binges, they may never reach out for help.

Fortunately, this disorder is treatable. If you fear that you or someone you love is struggling with binge eating disorder, reach out for help. You are not alone and you are capable of overcoming your eating disorder.

Health Risks of Binge Eating

Like all eating disorders, binge eating disorder presents a variety of health consequences that range in severity.

Health risks of binge eating disorder include:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Adult-onset diabetes
  • Musculoskeletal issues
  • Arthritis
  • Sleep apnea or insomnia
  • Infertility or pregnancy complications
  • Mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and more

Binge Eating in Society

Many celebrities face extreme pressure to be thin. Therefore, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are prevalent among these famous figures. However, many celebrities have also struggled with binge eating disorder.

Below are examples of prominent figures who have battled binge eating disorder. Their struggles and success stories can serve as a source of strength as you work toward recovery from your eating disorder.

Oprah Winfrey, TV Personality

In recent years, Oprah has spoken out about her struggles with binge eating disorder. The TV and movie star once turned to food as a way of dealing with stress. Now, she is an advocate for balanced living. She works to encourage her fans to adopt healthy relationships with food.

Janet Jackson, Musician

Throughout her life, Janet Jackson used food as a coping mechanism. She noticed that her urges to binge would spark when she was feeling sad or down. She has experienced firsthand the shame and guilt that binge eating disorder can bring. Janet Jackson is yet another example that you are not alone in your fight with binge eating disorder.

Author:Eating Disorder Guide Team
Eating Disorder Guide Team

Eating Disorder Guide is a trusted resource devoted to educating people about eating disorders, their many forms and how to get well.

The site is founded by a team of health-centric content producers who experienced firsthand the terror and pain of an eating disorder, but who took steps to seek recovery.

Last modified: October 9, 2021