What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States, and it’s diagnosed in all age groups. It’s most prevalent, though, among teens and adults. People with BED eat unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time and feel a loss of control and guilt over these bingeing episodes.

Binge Eating Statistics: Know the Facts »

Researchers estimate that up to 60 percent of people who struggle with BED are women. The cause for the disorder is unknown, but there are likely social, biological, and psychological factors. Without help, the long-term consequences of binge eating include:

  • weight gain
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • other obesity-related diseases
binge eating timeline

Keep reading to learn more about the history of this eating disorder.

1959: First Mention of Binge Eating

BED was first noted back in 1959 by psychiatrist Albert Stunkard. In his paper titled “Eating Patterns and Obesity,” Stunkard describes an eating pattern marked by consuming large amounts of food at irregular intervals. He observed that some of these episodes were linked to night eating.

The term binge eating eventually caught on. It was used to describe eating episodes that were not connected with sleep or the overnight hours.

1987: The APA’s DSM

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) mentioned binge eating in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1987. At the time, the condition was listed in the criteria and features of bulimia. Bulimia is an eating disorder that takes on a cycle of bingeing and purging.

Inclusion in the DSM is important because it increases disease awareness and gives mental disorders legitimacy. Prior to being included in the DSM, it was difficult for people to receive appropriate treatment for binge eating. Health insurance coverage for treatment of the disorder was also limited.  

1994: Link to EDNOS

In 1994, the APA listed binge eating in the DSM-4. At this point, it was still not known as its own disorder, though. Instead, binge eating was included in an appendix as a feature of “eating disorder not otherwise specified,” or EDNOS.

2008: The BEDA Forms

Weight Stigma Awareness Week
During Weight Stigma Awareness Week, people can access many virtual events that help address the impact of weight stigma on both the eating disorder population and society as a whole. Health professionals from across the country host various events, including tweet chats, webinars, and article forums.

BED continued to gain more attention. By 2008, a nonprofit called the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) was started. This group’s mission is all about help, support, and advocacy for the BED community. BEDA holds various events throughout the year and an annual conference. BEDA also hosts a Weight Stigma Awareness Week and supports BED research.

2013: Full Recognition in the DSM

In 2013, the APA released a revised edition of the DSM. This time, the DSM-5 declared BED as its own disorder. This is significant because it finally allowed people to get treatment under their insurance plans. It also added legitimacy to the disorder.

The new classification included the following criteria:

  • recurrent episodes of binge eating
  • association with eating alone, consuming foods rapidly, or feeling guilt and shame
  • feelings of distress related to eating behaviors
  • frequency of bingeing at least once a week for three or more months
  • absence of restricting or purging behaviors (common with anorexia or bulimia)

January 2015: Drug Therapy Introduced

In January 2015, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse) for the treatment of BED. The efficacy and safety of this drug were examined in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers found that those given 50 to 70 milligrams of lisdexamfetamine dimesylate reported less or even total cessation of bingeing. They also reported only a few side effects.

Where We Are Today

With BED now recognized as an eating disorder, more research is being done on both therapy and drug-based treatment options. One of the most effective therapies for eating disorders is cognitive behavior therapy. This method continues to be the most popular approach for both in- and outpatient treatment.

If you or someone you know is struggling with BED, there is hope. Speak with your doctor today to start on your road to recovery.