Binge eating disorder is one of the least recognized, but most common eating disorders that affects many Americans. Binge eating disorder is a serious eating disorder in which you consume too much food. In a study done in 2007 by McLean Hospital at Harvard University, it was found that 3.5% of women and 2% of men reported suffering from binge eating disorder at some point in their lives. In comparison, 0.9% of female participants and 0.3% of male participants reported anorexia nervosa, and 1.5% of women and 0.5% of men reported bulimia nervosa.[1] This means that binge eating disorder is more than twice as common as any other eating disorder.

One reason for the lack of public knowledge about binge eating disorder is that it is a fairly new diagnosis. In 1960, the average woman ages 40-49 weighed 128 pounds, but in the year 2000, weighed 157 pounds. By the year 2015, it is projected that 75% of Americans will be overweight, and 41% will be obese.[2] This explosion of weight gain in America has professionals searching for explanations, and binge eating disorder is a leading theory.

In fact, binge eating disorder is now considered an official psychiatric disorder. The DSM-IV is a diagnostic and statistical manual that many doctors, psychologists and social workers use to treat mental disorders. The newest addendum to the DSM-IV includes binge eating disorder to account for the worsening obesity epidemic. Therefore, in order to battle increased rates of obesity in America, we must understand the characteristics of binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder has several diagnostic criteria

1. Recurrent episodes of binge eating, characterized by both of the following:

a. Eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances

b.Sense of lack of control over eating during the episod

Binge eating episodes are associated with at least 3 of the following:

a. Eating much more rapidly than normal

b. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full

c. Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry

d. Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating

e. Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating

f. Marked distress regarding binge eating is present

g. The binge eating occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for 6 months, and is NOT associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behavior (i.e. vomiting or laxatives) [3]

The first step in understanding binge eating disorder is to recognize what foods we binge on, and why. The foods people are most likely to binge on are those that are energy-rich, meaning they are high in calories. (Find out why Humans Crave High Calorie Foods).

To treat binge eating disorder therapists, doctors, and nutritionists develop an eating plan that is designed to affect food related dopamine release. Reducing the number of fatty, sugary, salty foods in your diet, trains your brain to feel rewarded from a much smaller amount of those kinds of foods. Another effective treatment is brief or long-term therapy.  A professional counselor can help you determine personal triggers for binge eating, help you identify why you are overusing food, and assist you in making a plan that includes specific steps to help manage and control your food consumption in everyday life.

Binge eating disorder might not be the only psychological issue. In some cases, underlying anxiety disorder or clinical depression may manifest itself into disordered eating behaviors. If the binge eating is tied to emotional distress, therapy can also be useful to work through how to deal with those emotions . In some cases, medication may be necessary to change the neurological processes contributing to the development of binge eating disorder.

Accepting that you have a disorder is difficult. However, if you feel as though you may fit the criteria for binge eating disorder, please contact your primary care physician for further discussion.

[1] Hudson, J.I, Hiripi, E., Pope, H.G., & Kessler, R.C. (2007). The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 61 (3), pp. 348-358.

[2] Wang, Y. and Beydoun. Obesity Epidemic in the United States – Gender, Age, Socioeconomic, Racial/Ethnic, and Geographic Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Regression Analysis. Epidemiologic Reviews. 2007; 29 (2): 6- 28.

[3] American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.; 2000a.