Overview

Individuals who suffer from binge eating disorder frequently consume large amounts of food, sometimes up to 15,000 calories in one sitting. They often eat when no one is around, and they might be compelled to hide and hoard their food. Binge eaters do not induce vomiting after eating (those who binge and purge suffer from a different eating disorder called bulimia) and are often overweight or obese. About two percent of adults in the United States suffer from binge eating disorder.

What Causes Binge Eating?

Causes vary depending on the individual, and in some cases the cause of the disorder may never be known. Binge eating is often the result of a series of abnormal activities in the brain. Depression, extreme dieting, and stress might cause these. Some theories suggest that binge eating may be genetic; it often runs in families.

Who Is at Risk for Binge Eating?

Eating disorders are unpredictable and can affect anyone. The following factors indicate elevated risk:

  • female gender
  • age range from late teens to early twenties
  • family history of eating disorders
  • history of depression, substance abuse, or impulsive behavior
  • history of frequent and extreme dieting

What are the Symptoms of Binge Eating?

It can be difficult to identify a binge eater by outward appearance. If you suffer from this eating disorder, you may be overweight or obese or remain an average size. Also, the following symptoms often occur in private:

  • eating large amounts of food even when you are not hungry
  • eating quickly
  • feeling ill after eating
  • eating alone
  • feelings of depression and loss of control
  • embarrassment at eating around others
  • frequent dieting without long-term weight loss

Diagnosing Binge Eating

If you suspect that you may suffer from binge eating disorder, a medical doctor may examine you for signs of health problems that may have occurred due to frequent overeating. However, a mental health professional will usually make the eating disorder diagnosis.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists specific criteria that you must be meet to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder. These criteria include:

  • recurrent episodes of binge eating
  • at least three of the following factors: eating rapidly, eating until uncomfortable, eating large amounts despite lack of hunger, eating alone, feeling guilty after eating
  • concern about binge eating
  • binging at least twice per week over six months
  • binging is not associated with purging (binging and purging may warrant a bulimia diagnosis)

Treating Binge Eating

If you start binging on occasion and are concerned, it is important to take steps to prevent the issue from becoming a true eating disorder. Consider the following tips:

  • Associate with people of varying sizes.
  • Avoid images that make you feel ashamed or insecure about your body.
  • Talk to trusted friends and family and your primary care provider about your concerns. When others are aware, they can assist you in seeking help should occasional overeating develop into regular binging.

There are also a number of treatment options that you could seek out, including:

Therapy

Talk therapy is the typical treatment for psychological disorders such as binge eating. Sessions with a therapist may be conducted one-on-one or in a group or in a family setting.

Medication

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat the depression or anxiety that sometimes trigger binge eating. In extreme cases, you may be given the antiseizure medication topiramate. It has a history of reducing binge eating episodes; however, this medication has extreme side effects, so it is only offered in rare circumstances.

Weight Management

You may also be referred to weight management programs, either during or after psychological treatment. These programs provide nutritional counseling and can help you learn to reach a healthy weight in a safe manner.

What Is to Be Expected in the Long Term?

Binge eating can be cured with regular therapy. Because some people have a biological predisposition toward binge eating, relapse is possible. If you have a history of binge eating, it is important to seek help as soon as you notice habits associated with the disorder returning. Binge eating can be difficult to treat once it becomes a compulsion, as those who suffer from it are often ashamed and secretive.

If left untreated, binge eating can lead to be obesity and other medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.