Six Surprising Facts About Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) was formally acknowledged as an eating disorder in 2013 (finally!). It is characterized by frequent episodes of consuming large amounts of food, at a fast pace, past the point of physical comfort and usually within a 2-hour period. A binge is typically experienced as a complete loss of control and is followed by a wave of negative emotions, most notably guilt and shame. BED is different from bulimia nervosa in that individuals with BED do not engage in compensatory behavior (efforts to counteract the binge like self-induced vomiting, laxatives, driven exercise).

Here are some surprising facts you may not know about Binge Eating Disorder (BED):

1. Between 1-5% of adults in the United States suffer from BED[1]

Binge Eating Disorder is the most common eating disorder, affecting approximately 1-5% of adults in the United States. BED frequently goes undetected by doctors and other mental health professionals.

2.  Those who suffer from BED often have high levels of shame.

In our modern day world, dieting is not only glamorized but also viewed as a symbol of control, willpower, determination and perseverance. Therefore it is understandable that the experience of binge eating is deeply connected to shame and embarrassment. When individuals engage in binge eating, they often do so in isolation and keep it secret, even from close family members.

3.  Binge eating is associated with a number of dangerous health risks.

Like you didn’t feel badly enough about it already; long-term consequences of binge eating include high cholesterol, heart disease, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, diabetes and musculoskeletal problems.

4.  Binge eating affects both men and women.

40% of BED sufferers are men.  In women, BED is most common in early adulthood; in men, it occurs more often in midlife.

5.  Binges are often associated with a heightened amount of emotion, which often times helps drives the binge

For some people, one of the functions of a binge is to self-medicate  – or regulate emotion.  More specifically, bingeing may serve to reduce or get rid of anxiety or other unwanted negative emotions.  Over time, binging is a learned behavior that can indeed provide short-term relief (in the form of escape, calming, numbing) in the face of negative emotion.   Unfortunately, the longer-term negative physical and emotional consequences are significant.

 6.  Binge eating can be a result of restrictive eating or dieting

Many people who suffer from BED often attempt to restrict their diet through highly rigid and inflexible rules – “I cannot eat bread” or “I should only eat ABC.” This chronic restriction and restraint often backfires because the dieter feels deprived, frustrated or downright hungry.  And in the face of rigid rules, “mistakes” are bound to occur which often lead to the total abandonment of food rules for a brief period (the binge) with the promise to  “be good” tomorrow.

[1]  Hudson, J.I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H.G. et al. (2007)The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biol.Psychiatry, 61, 348–358.