- Binge eating disorder (BED) occurs when a person feels compelled to eat large quantities of food in a short period of time.
- BED is classified as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
- There are effective treatments for BED, including psychological counseling and medication.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a mental condition in which a person feels compelled to eat large quantities of food in a short period of time. If you’re unable to stop yourself from consistent episodes of heavy eating, you might need to ask your doctor about BED.
Having a second slice of pie for dessert or mindlessly snacking doesn’t necessarily mean you have BED. BED is not the same as overeating, which can happen sporadically. Binge eating is patterned and occurs over several hours, several times in a day or week.
Causes of BED vary in each individual. Some doctors believe it’s linked to genes, trauma, negative self-image, stress, heightened emotions, and a history of extreme dieting.
You asked, we answered
- Are appetite suppressants effective in treating binge eating disorder, or will they only make it worse?
Appetite suppressants are stimulants. Binge eating is based on patterns of behavior and not on feelings of hunger. So appetite stimulants play no role in the treatment of BED. Modifying behaviors is the effective method of treatment, either with a therapist, group therapy, or nutritionist.- Dr. Mark LaFlamme
Identifying symptoms of BED is important in overcoming binge eating. Although BED is often associated with obesity or being overweight, you may have BED even if you’re at a healthy weight. BED is often coupled with another eating disorder known as bulimia nervosa. Bulimia nervosa is associated with purging food after binge eating. However, BED and bulimia are two separate conditions.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), some common symptoms of BED include:
- regular binge eating episodes in a specific time period (such as within two hours) at least once a week for three months
- feeling like you can’t stop yourself from overeating
- eating large amounts of food when you’re already full or not hungry
- eating more rapidly than normal
- feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after an episode
- eating alone because of your embarrassment of your binge eating
BED causes a risk of obesity from extreme food consumption. This can also cause other medical complications, such as:
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- gallbladder disease
Triggers of BED are events or behaviors that stimulate episodes of binge eating. BED can be triggered by many personal and medical events, including:
- eating less because of a diet plan
- stress due to overwhelming responsibilities or traumatic life events
- poor self-image due to media influence or bullying/abuse
Binge eating is often used as a means to cope with stressful or emotional situations. If you find yourself binge eating because of these or other triggers, your doctor may recommend that you seek counseling to confront the issues that cause you to binge eat.
There are effective ways to treat BED. Since it is classified as a mental illness in the DSM-5, treatment includes counseling, and sometimes medication. You should not use any medicines or supplements to treat your BED without first asking your doctor.
Psychological, psychiatric, and other medical services like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IP), group/family therapy, and nutritional counseling can all help you manage your BED.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT focuses on the connections between your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. CBT involves regular meetings with a therapist or counselor. In these meetings, you will discuss ways to identify negative thinking. Your therapist or counselor will then help you find healthier responses to stressful situations.
When binge eating is triggered by poor self-image and negative thoughts, this kind of therapy can be helpful.
Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IP)
IP addresses how you interact in your relationships with other people. This form of therapy can be helpful for those who binge eat after unhealthy interactions with friends, family members, or even strangers. An IP therapist or counselor can help improve communication and social skills.
It can be difficult to manage BED alone. Group or family therapy allows you to work through your BED symptoms with others. This form of therapy aims at collectively managing BED and the effects it may have on your family or group environment. This type of therapy can take many forms, including couples therapy and family-based treatment.
Nutritional counseling helps you create a nutritional plan based on your physical and emotional needs. This is done with the help of a professional nutrition counselor or registered dietician. Counseling can be extremely helpful in planning a healthy and consistent diet.
Alternative treatments like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness therapies can also be used to help cope with symptoms of BED. Talk to your doctor about counseling and therapy options, especially if you’re also taking medicine for BED treatment.
Relapse is possible, even with no symptoms of BED for a long period of time. Talk to your doctor or counselor right away if you start to experience BED triggers and symptoms again.
Many organizations and websites also provide support for BED relapse. These include the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA).
Whether you’re facing BED for the first time or are seeking help for a relapse, these groups can help you feel confident about getting treatment and counseling for BED.
The shame cycle is when guilt and embarrassment about your BED symptoms trigger more binge eating. This creates a cycle of negative thoughts and actions that can be difficult to break.
Being open about your BED with a mental health professional can help you stop or weaken this pattern. Recognizing when you’re in a shame cycle is the first step.
There is no universal treatment plan for binge eating disorders. Some patients find success in a combination of therapy and diet planning, while others require the use of medication to treat underlying causes of their eating habits. Finding the cause of your binge eating is the first step in learning how to stop it. Work with your doctor to come up with a realistic plan of action.