We all overeat from time to time, but for binge eaters, overeating is regular and uncontrollable. You use food to cope with stress and other negative emotions, even though afterwards you feel even worse. You may feel like you’re stuck in a vicious cycle, but binge eating disorder is treatable. With the right help and support, you can learn to control your eating and develop a healthy relationship with food.
What is Binge eating?
Binge eating disorder is characterized by compulsive overeating in which people consume huge amounts of food while feeling out of control and powerless to stop. The symptoms of binge eating disorder usually begin in late adolescence or early adulthood, often after a major diet. A binge eating episode typically lasts around two hours, but some people binge on and off all day long. Binge eaters often eat even when they’re not hungry and continue eating long after they’re full. They may also gorge themselves as fast as they can while barely registering what they’re eating or tasting.
The key features of binge eating disorder are:
- Frequent episodes of uncontrollable binge eating.
- Feeling extremely distressed or upset during or after bingeing.
- Unlike bulimia, there are no regular attempts to “make up” for the binges through vomiting, fasting, or over-exercising.
People with binge eating disorder struggle with feelings of guilt, disgust, and depression. They worry about what the compulsive eating will do to their bodies and beat themselves up for their lack of self-control. They desperately want to stop binge eating, but feel like they can’t. BED usually leads to obesity although it can occur in normal weight individuals. There may be a genetic inheritance factor involved in BED independent of other obesity risks.
The binge eating cycle
Binge eating may be comforting for a brief moment, but then reality sets back in, along with regret and self-loathing. Binge eating often leads to weight gain and obesity, which only reinforces compulsive eating. The worse a binge eater feels about themself and their appearance, the more they use food to cope. It becomes a vicious cycle: eating to feel better, feeling even worse, and then turning back to food for relief.
How Common Is Binge Eating Disorder?
Although only recently recognized as a distinct condition, binge eating disorder is probably the most common eating disorder. Most people with binge eating disorder are obese (more than 20% above a healthy body weight), but normal-weight people also can be affected.
Binge eating disorder probably affects 2% of all adults, or about 1 million to 2 million Americans. Among mildly obese people in self-help or commercial weight loss programs, 10% to 15% have binge eating disorder. The disorder is even more common in those with severe obesity.
Binge eating disorder is slightly more common in women than in men. The disorder affects African-Americans as often as Caucasians; its frequency in other ethnic groups is not yet known. Obese people with binge eating disorder often became overweight at a younger age than those without the disorder. They also might have more frequent episodes of losing and regaining weight.