Binge-eating disorder is a severe eating disorder that pushes affected individuals into a state of intense urge to consume large amounts of foods.
We’ve all been there: binge eating a pack of popcorn in front of the TV or chugging down a whole bottle of coca-cola while scrolling on the phone. But where do we draw the line between bingeing as a pleasure and bingeing because it’s an uncontrollable impulse? Binge eating disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder that affects up to 5% of Americans .
Symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder
BED was first described in 1959 by Albert Stunkard, an American psychiatrist. In his research paper, he mentioned BED as “an eating pattern involving the consumption of large amounts of meals at irregular times.”  Before this time, many didn’t even realize they had BED because eating is an essential part of our lives, and there weren’t many conversations about excessive eating.
Over the years, BED has gained attention worldwide and it’s now comprehensively diagnosed in the presence of three or more of these features :
- Eating large portions of food even without the feel of hunger
- Experience of marked distress because of binge eating
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Feeling of disgust, guilt and depression after overeating
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating alone in isolation due to embarrassment
- Absence of compensatory behaviors such as purging, or using laxatives after overeating
Food items are tasty and they boost our urge to continue eating; that’s why it’s so difficult to stop with just one slice of cake! But BED is not the same as occasional overeating because, unlike overeating, BED is an ongoing psychological problem. People with BED have episodes of binge eating for about 2-hours at least 1 day a week for 3 months.
Causes of Binge Eating Disorder
BED is a relatively new psychological eating disorder diagnosis, meaning there are still many entities that we lack understanding. Though we don’t fully understand the causes of BED, we’ve still made significant progress. Besides, more and more research and studies are underway, and we can hope to uncover further knowledge on BED in the near future.
In 2006, a blinded family interview was conducted to investigate the effects of familial factors on BED. A total of 300 participants (150 of them with BED and the remaining 150 without BED) and their first-degree relatives were recruited. These families were interviewed and assessed for a lifetime diagnosis of BED.
Consequently, the prevalence of BED amongst the relatives of participants with BED was higher (20.2%) compared to participants without BED (9.6%). This suggests that BED is likely a familial disorder that’s contributable to genetic factors. Therefore, if your siblings or parents have a history of BED, you’re at a higher risk of developing it yourself.
Emotions have significant influences on the development of BED. By and large, occasional binge eating is a coping mechanism of negative emotions for many. Henceforth, it’s no wonder that a history of psychological disturbances or low self-esteem may trigger binge eating and subsequent BED development.
Here is some mental and emotional distress potentially causing BED:
- Depression or anxiety
- Extreme anger
- Negative body image
- Grief over a significant loss
- Relationship problems
- Sexual or physical abuse
Approximately 80% of people affected by BED have at least one other psychological disorder . Therefore, there’s arguably a close link between a certain thought pattern and the development of BED.
History of Dieting
The concept of dieting and restricting calorie intake is largely glorified in the mass media. Unfortunately, a history of dieting is one of the contributing causes to the development of BED and many other eating disorders. Most diet regimens consist of substantial calorie reduction, which may sometimes drive the body into a state of starvation and lack . In the long run, it’ll push an individual into extreme hunger, and eventually, binge eating.
Complications of Binge Eating Disorder
BED has a track record of negatively impacting one’s mental and physical health. The most obvious and common complication is weight gain and subsequently, obesity or being overweight. While unhealthy body weight in itself is already a problem, it may further trickle into other problems (the domino effect)!
For example, those with pre-existing heart disease may experience exacerbation secondary to poor dietary control. This also applies to other health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoarthritis, or high cholesterol that may be worsened by poor dietary management or high body weight .
Other than that, weight gain from BED may also cause complications with the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Obese or overweight women are more likely to have an increased secretion of estrogen hormones which interferes with ovulation. Therefore, conceiving a child might become more complex. These women are also more likely to experience complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, or polycystic ovary syndrome post-conception. 
In short, even though BED is a single disease entity, it develops into serious health risks and complications when left untreated. It further accentuates the importance of consulting a healthcare provider about BED and exploring potential eating disorder treatment options.
FAQ: Binge Eating
Is binge eating disorder because of poor self-control?
People with BED often describe a strong feeling of loss of control with food. But the reason behind it is much deeper than poor discipline or self-control. In fact, most people with BED do not feel any sense of joy or satisfaction after succumbing to their urge. They tend to feel disgusted and guilty over their actions. That being the case, BED isn’t an issue of poor self-discipline. It is an actual eating disorder that stems from various causes and risk factors such as genetics, emotional trauma, and even age.
Is my weight reflective of binge eating disorder?
No. While weight gain and obesity are complications of BED, it’s not a reliable indicator of the eating disorder. This is true for many other eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. Therefore, you can be overweight and not have BED (or, inversely, have BED and not be overweight).
Can I manage binge eating disorder on my own?
Firstly, you can start keeping a food and mood journal and use it daily to record your eating habits and reflect on your state of mind. This method helps you to understand your BED pattern better, and consequently, manage it more strategically.
Secondly, you can plan your meals ahead of time. Write down what you’d like to eat for each meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). This method helps guide you each day in terms of what to expect and subsequently minimizes the chances of bingeing in between meals or snacking on unhealthy food items at mealtime. You can also note the exact portion of food to avoid starving yourself or overeating.
Finally, it’s equally crucial for you to manage other domains of your day. For example, make sure to drink enough water and exercise regularly. That said, it’s essential to know that managing BED isn’t an overnight process, and abstinence violation is rather common. Give yourself time to adjust to your lifestyle changes, and be kind to yourself throughout.
Foods are one of the most incredible things known to humankind—they supply energy, keep our body functioning, and satisfy our taste buds. However, excess of anything is bad, and thus, consuming large amounts of food may be detrimental.
If you feel like you have BED, talk to your family and consult a healthcare provider. Although BED is still new to the medical world, many treatment options and lifestyle recommendations can help manage BED. Remember that BED is a severe eating disorder, and it can’t be “cured” with mere forceful abstinence from food.
Blaming yourself for not controlling your eating habits does more harm than good. The fact is, BED can happen to anyone, and it’s not your fault. Rest assured that BED can be managed with enough patience, medical support, and self-love!
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.