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Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder characterized by eating large quantities of food in a very short amount of time, often happening when the person isn’t even hungry. This is called a binge. While a binge doesn’t have an exact definition, it is typically considered to be an amount of food that is much larger than a meal, eaten in one sitting.  Often this is associated with feeling out of control, as if they can’t stop eating, and therefore the food is eaten very quickly. After a binge, a person will typically feel uncomfortably full, sometimes with feelings of guilt, shame or embarrassment about the amount or type of food eaten. Because of the negative feelings surrounding bingeing, it typically happens when a person is alone.

BED is typically diagnosed by a doctor or other health care provider. Usually, a diagnosis will be considered if a person is bingeing at least once per week for several months.  The health care provider will ask questions related to the frequency of bingeing, as well as any feelings associated with it, to help determine the severity of bingeing and help the individual separate bingeing from overeating, as this can often be difficult for the person struggling with the disorder.

BED is often confused with bulimia, another type of eating disorder. The main difference is that bulimia includes a compensatory behavior after a binge, such as overexercising, abusing laxatives, or another form of purging. In BED, only regular bingeing is present.

BED hasn’t always been considered an official diagnosis. Luckily, healthcare professionals now realize how prevalent it is, which is important in knowing how to help those struggling with this particular eating disorder. BED is thought to affect about 2% of people worldwide. However, the true number is thought to be much higher, as many people struggling with BED find it difficult to seek help.

Because of the stigma surrounding BED and other eating disorders, many people have trouble admitting that they are struggling, and may find it difficult to share their struggles. One of the common misconceptions about BED is that the people afflicted tend to have a higher body weight. The truth is that BED is not always associated with a specific body size, and can also affect any gender, race, or ethnicity.

Like other eating disorders, BED is about more than food; people typically develop this eating disorder as a way of dealing with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. BED does not have one cause but can result from a variety of factors including genetics, negative thoughts and feelings about food, low self-image, and co-occurring mental health diagnoses such as anxiety and depression. People who struggle with BED may have a long history of restrictive dieting.

Treatment for BED includes medical intervention, nutritional counseling, and therapy.  The length and plan for treatment depends on the severity of the eating disorder but will include goal-oriented behavior intervention with the goal of developing a healthier relationship with food. As with any eating disorder, the first step to treatment is asking for help.

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