What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
Most people have had times when they ate too much, especially during a special occasion or holiday. Binge eating disorder is different.
You feel like you can't stop, even if you're already uncomfortably full. You may eat a lot, quickly, even if you're not hungry. You feel ashamed about it. Unlike bulimia, you don't try to make yourself throw up or exercise a lot after a binge.
You can overcome that out-of-control feeling with treatment. Talking with a specialist (such as a psychiatrist or psychologist) who treats people with eating disorders is key. For some people, taking medication also helps.
It helps to have emotional support from family and friends, too. Their backing makes it easier to change the way you think about food.
Experts don't know why some people develop binge eating disorder. It's more common in women than in men. In the U.S. about 3.5% of women (5.6 million) and 2% of men (3.1 million) have it.
People who are obese are at a higher risk of getting binge eating disorder, although people of normal weight can also get it. About two of every three people in the U.S. who have the condition are obese.
If you have binge eating disorder, you may have trouble handling your emotions or feel out of control in other ways. You may use food as a way to comfort or reward yourself. Skipping meals and other severe dieting may trigger a backlash of binge eating.
The disorder also runs in some families. Women are more likely than men to have it.
Some people with binge eating disorder have gone through emotional or physical abuse, or had addictions, such as alcoholism. If that sounds like you, getting help with those issues will be part of getting better.
If you have binge eating disorder, you:
- Eat more food than other people do in the same situation.
- Feel like you can't control how much you eat.
- Feel upset after you binge.
- Have an eating binge at least once a week for 3 months, on average.
You also have three or more of these symptoms:
- Eat much more quickly than normal.
- Eat enough to be uncomfortably full.
- Even when you're not hungry you eat a lot.
- Eat alone so no one will see how much food you're having.
- Feel guilty, disgusted, or depressed about your eating.
People with binge eating disorder don't try to throw up after overeating. You can get other health problems related to gaining weight or unhealthy eating, too, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
Getting a Diagnosis
Your doctor may ask you questions such as:
- Once you start eating, can you stop?
- How do you feel about how much you eat?
- Do you eat really fast?
- Do you keep eating even after you're uncomfortably full?
- Have you ever lied to someone about how much you eat?
- Do you want to eat alone? Why?
People with eating disorders often try to hide it. In order to get diagnosed, though, you need to be open with your doctor. She's on your side.
Your doctor may consider binge eating mild if it happens 1-3 times a week, moderate if it happens 4-7 times a week, severe if it happens 8-13 times a week, or extreme if it happens 14 or more times a week.
Questions for Your Doctor
- Have you worked with many people with binge eating disorder?
- What treatment do you recommend? How long will it last?
- Do I have any other conditions or issues that need to be treated?
- How can my family or friends help me?
Beating binge eating disorder is not about willpower.
Sometimes medications such as lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) will be prescribed to suppress the desire to binge eat. It is the first FDA-approved drug to treat moderate to severe binge eating by curbing the binge eating episodes. You also need the help of a specialist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
She may use an approach called cognitive behavior therapy, which focuses on what you do and how you feel. It can help you change your thoughts about eating and understand what triggers your binges.
Your therapist may suggest that you include your family in counseling so they can learn about the disorder, spot sources of stress at home, and know how to support you.
Ask your doctor or therapist about finding a support group in your area. It can help to talk to other people who know what you're going through.
You also may need help with other conditions, such as depression or anxiety. A doctor may prescribe an antidepressant, a drug to help manage the urge to binge (such as the anti-seizure drug topiramate), or other medications.
Taking Care of Yourself
Ask your doctor or therapist to recommend a nutritional counselor who can teach you about healthy eating. If you have type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol, you may need to limit certain types of foods or lose weight. You need your doctor's advice on how to lose extra weight without triggering binge eating.
The goal is to get healthier. It's not about numbers on a scale or serving sizes. It's also about how you relate to food and to your own body.
What to Expect
If you feel stuck in a cycle of binge eating, take heart: Most people can overcome this disorder with treatment. It's possible for you, too.
Most importantly, be patient with yourself. People with binge eating disorder often blame themselves. As you work toward recovery, you may have setbacks. Those bumps in the road aren't unusual as you gradually gain more control over your eating.
You can find support groups, doctor referrals, and other information from the Binge Eating Disorder Association, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), and the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).
If you'd like to talk to someone, you can call the NEDA helpline at (800) 931-2237 or the ANAD helpline at (630) 577-1330. They're available Monday through Friday.