According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), binge eating is an eating disorder that can have potentially life-threatening consequences. Binge eating is approximately three times as common as anorexia or bulimia nervosa. Comparatively, it is also more common than HIV, breast cancer, and schizophrenia. Binge-eating is one of the newest eating disorders to be recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This manual is used by health care professionals to diagnose mental disorders and lists a variety of symptoms of recognized disorders.
The NEDA defines an instance of binge eating as, “Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any two-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.” It is typically characterized by eating much faster than normal, eating past the point of feeling uncomfortable, and eating large amounts of food even when not feeling hungry. In order to be classified as an eating disorder, the binge eating sessions must occur at least once a week for three months, and not include regular instances of purging. Periods of binge eating are typically followed by feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, and depression.
According to Dr. Smitha Bhandari, binge eating disorder has several treatments depending on the severity of the disorder. Outpatient treatment involves regular therapy to develop and encourage healthy eating habits and a realistic view of body image and healthy attitudes towards food. Medication is another accepted treatment prescribed in addition to therapy—it can vary depending on the individual patient. The final method of treatment includes round-the-clock care at a health care facility, and is usually implemented when there are other serious health problems to take into consideration.
According to the Mayo Clinic, binge-eating disorders can lead to the development of various complications including social isolation, anxiety, substance use disorders, weight gain and obesity, depression, and other mood disorders if not treated.
NEDA claims two-thirds of people with the disorder are overweight, as the increased calorie intake in a short period of time is not worked off through exercise. Commonly, people who binge eat have a history of negative feelings about their weight, leading to decreased self esteem and increasing the likelihood of a binge eating episode. Bhandari and the Mayo Clinic agree that obesity can also increase the chances of long term health problems including cancer, joint problems, heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and other breathing disorders.
Such complications are not curable and can lead to lifelong struggles. The Mayo Clinic states that a family history of eating disorders, psychological issues, and a previous pattern of dieting can increase the risk of developing binge eating disorder. While there is no guaranteed method to prevent binge eating disorder, creating and supporting a healthy body image is the first step to overcoming this disorder. If greater assistance is needed, then contacting your health care provider should be the next step.