Overeating once in a while or indulging on special occasions is common and part of normal eating. It may make you feel unwell for a bit, but it’s usually nothing to be concerned about.

However, eating large amounts of food on a regular basis is concerning and may indicate binge eating disorder (BED).

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

The National Eating Disorders Association defines BED as an eating disorder where a person repeatedly consumes large quantities of food in a short period of time. People with BED feel a loss of control during the binge, followed by feelings of shame or guilt.

Unlike anorexia or bulimia, people with BED do not try to compensate for their binging by purging, exercising vigorously after eating, or avoiding food. People with BED may feel guilty or out of control, but they can’t stop their behavior.

About 2 percent of adults in the United States, or around 4 million people, have BED. It is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. BED primarily impacts adult women, but men and children also have it. They may or may not be overweight. Researchers aren’t clear what causes BED. The following may be contributing factors:

  • depression and other mood disorders
  • history of weight stigma
  • dieting
  • genetics

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What Are the Complications of Binge Eating Disorder?

BED may have serious physical and emotional complications, including:

  • feelings of shame and guilt
  • obesity
  • obesity-related conditions including painful joints, heart disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sleep disorders, and diabetes
  • gall bladder disease
  • problems functioning in your personal life or at work
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • bipolar disorder
  • substance abuse

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

When frequent overeating episodes become the norm, it may be a sign of BED. Here are the most common signs of the condition:

  • eating large amounts of food within a specific period of time
  • feeling you’ve lost control of your eating habits
  • eating when you’re not hungry
  • eating when you’re full
  • eating fast during an episode
  • eating until you feel physically uncomfortable
  • eating alone or eating secretly
  • feeling guilty, depressed, ashamed, or disgusted about your eating
  • dieting often, with or without weight loss

How Is Binge Eating Disorder Diagnosed?

Diagnosing BED may include a psychological evaluation and tests to evaluate your physical health to determine the effects of overeating.

Your doctor will diagnose you with BED if you’re having recurrent binge eating episodes along with one or more of the above symptoms. Episodes must happen at least once a week for three months, on average.

How Is Binge Eating Disorder Treated?

While treatment options will vary based on the individual, they typically include a combination of:

  • individual psychotherapy
  • support or therapy groups
  • family/couples therapy
  • specialized nutrition counseling
  • medical/psychiatric support and medication management, as needed

Experts disagree about whether the psychological or physical pieces of the BED puzzle should be treated first.

Some eating disorder experts believe that the underlying depression, self-esteem, and anxiety issues should be treated before the relationship with food issue can be addressed. Others, including obesity experts, feel that dietary intervention needs to occur before psychological problems are tackled. Some researchers feel that a dual approach is best.

Treatment Options for Binge Eating Disorder

With so many varying opinions on how to treat BED, it’s not surprising that treatment recommendations may differ between doctors. As a result, treatment may include one or more of these therapies:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • interpersonal psychotherapy
  • dialectical behavioral therapy
  • weight loss behavioral programs
  • medication, such as antidepressants or appetite suppressants

Self-care steps can be taken to assist your treatment plan. These may include:

  • eating balanced meals throughout the day
  • working on your relationship with food
  • staying active
  • practicing self-care
  • proper sleep

What Is the Prognosis for Binge Eating Disorder?

By working with a team of healthcare professionals and addressing the physical and psychological aspects of BED, the condition can be treated successfully.

Like most mental health disorders, every case of BED is unique and requires a unique approach. Length of time from diagnosis to recovery varies depending on an individual’s situation. Some experts believe that the earlier medical intervention occurs, the more likely that a positive outcome will occur.

When Is It Time to Consult a Doctor?

BED is a devastating yet treatable condition. If you regularly binge, find yourself eating when you’re not hungry, feel loss of control over your eating habits, or feel guilt or depression about food, you may have binge eating disorder.

Discuss your symptoms with your physician to get the proper diagnosis.