Binge-eating disorder is a serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food. Almost everyone overeats on occasion, such as having seconds or thirds of a holiday meal. But for some people, overeating crosses the line to binge-eating disorder and it becomes a regular occurrence, shrouded in secrecy.
When you have binge-eating disorder, you may be deeply embarrassed about gorging and vow to stop. But you feel such a compulsion that you can't resist the urges and continue binge eating.
Although binge-eating disorder is the most common of all eating disorders, it's still not considered a distinct psychiatric condition. But if you have binge-eating disorder symptoms, treatment can help you.
When you have binge-eating disorder you often have numerous behavioral and emotional signs and symptoms, such as:
After a binge, you may try to diet or eat normal meals. But restricting your eating may simply lead to more binge eating, creating a vicious cycle.
You may have no obvious physical signs or symptoms when you have binge-eating disorder. You may be overweight or obese, or you may be of a normal weight.
When to see a doctor
If you have a primary care doctor, talk to him or her about your binge-eating symptoms and feelings. Or seek help directly from a mental health provider. If you're reluctant to seek treatment, try to work up the courage to talk to someone about what you're going through, whether it's a friend or loved one, a health care professional, a teacher, a faith leader or someone else you trust. They can help you take the first steps to successful binge-eating disorder treatment.
Helping a loved one with binge-eating disorder symptoms
The cause of binge-eating disorder is unknown. As with many mental illnesses, it's thought that a variety of factors are at play in binge-eating disorder, such as:
Factors that can increase the risk of developing binge-eating disorder are:
Generally, people with binge-eating disorder don't enjoy eating to excess. And you may even develop psychological and physical problems related to binge eating, making you even more miserable and further reducing your quality of life.
Some of these complications can arise from being overweight as a result of frequent bingeing. Other complications may occur because of unhealthy yo-yo eating habits — binging followed by harsh dieting. In addition, food consumed during a binge is often high in fat and low in protein and other nutrients, which could lead to health problems.
Complications that binge-eating disorder may cause or be associated with include:
Preparing for your appointment
Treatment of binge-eating disorder may require a team approach that includes medical providers, as well as mental health providers and dietitians with experience in eating disorders.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointments, and what to expect from your doctor and other health providers.
What you can do
Some potential questions you might want to ask your doctor or other health care provider include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask, don't hesitate to ask questions of any of your providers anytime that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Binge-eating disorder isn't yet officially classified as a mental disorder, and not all experts agree on whether or not it should be. Binge eating is similar to bulimia nervosa, another eating disorder, and some experts think it may be a form of bulimia. But unlike people with bulimia who try to rid themselves of the extra calories after a binge through vomiting, exercise or other means, people with binge-eating disorder don't attempt to purge themselves of the extra calories they consume. That's why many people with binge-eating disorder are overweight.
In any case, when doctors suspect someone has an eating disorder, they typically run a number of tests including:
Your doctor may want you to undergo other tests to check for health consequences of binge-eating disorder, such as heart problems or gallbladder disease.
Criteria for diagnosis
DSM diagnostic criteria for binge-eating disorder include:
Treatments and drugs
The goals for treatment of binge-eating disorder are to reduce eating binges, to improve your emotional well-being and, when necessary, to lose weight. Because binge eating is so entwined with shame, poor self-image, self-disgust and other negative emotions, treatment needs to address these and other psychological issues.
There are four main types of treatment for binge-eating disorder.
Behavioral weight-loss programs
However, when necessary, weight-loss programs for people with binge-eating disorder are generally done under medical supervision to ensure that your nutritional requirements are met. Some programs are known as very low calorie diet programs because they include an initial period of strict calorie restriction for fast weight loss.
Weight-loss programs may also address issues that tend to trigger binges, but generally to a lesser extent than psychotherapy does. However, weight-loss programs, especially those that are not medically supervised, may not be appropriate for everyone with binge-eating disorder.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Binge-eating disorder generally isn't an illness that you can treat on your own. But you can do some things for yourself that will build on your treatment plan. In addition to professional treatment, follow these self-care steps for binge eating:
Although yoga has not yet been well studied as a treatment for people with eating disorders, some research has found that yoga may be beneficial as an additional treatment. It may help people with eating disorders by increasing a sense of well-being and promoting relaxation.
Coping and support
When living with an eating disorder you may face an especially difficult struggle to cope, since food is essential to survival. There's no avoiding it — you have to deal with food on a daily basis. Having an eating disorder and being overweight is a double whammy. Here are some tips to help you cope:
There's no sure way to prevent binge-eating disorder. But, if you notice a family member or friend with low self-esteem, severe dieting, frequent overeating, hoarding of food or dissatisfaction with appearance, consider talking to him or her about these issues. Although you may not be able to prevent binge-eating disorder or another eating disorder from developing, you can talk about healthier behavior or treatment options.
Last Updated: 2010-10-09
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