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Ask Dr. Birdie: Straight Talk about Binge Eating

By , SparkPeople Blogger
This journey to a healthy lifestyle is a worthwhile, but at times, difficult endeavor. If you're dealing with an eating disorder on top of a weight issue, it can feel downright impossible to reach your goals.

Most of us are familiar with the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia, but I would like to focus on an eating disorder that is actually more common.  This diagnosis is rarely discussed on diet and exercise blogs and not given the attention that it deserves, which is not surprising.  After all, eating disorders are typically suffered in secret.   

What am I talking about?  Binge eating disorder

Let's discuss this medical condition in detail so that you can understand the diagnosis, and, if you think you are affected, you can seek the help that you need.   

What is binge eating disorder?  Binge eating disorder is not formally recognized as a psychiatric illness.  Patients who are diagnosed as having binge eating disorder are classified by doctors and researchers as "Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified."  However, this disorder recently has been better defined for the purpose of research.

The current criteria for binge eating disorder:
  1. Episodes of binge eating, defined as consuming a large amount of food in a short period of time.  Patients feel that they lack control over eating during the episode. 
  1. Binge eating episodes are marked by at least three of the following:
    1. Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
    2. Eating more rapidly than normal
    3. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
    4. Eating alone because of embarrassment by the amount of food consumed
    5. Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating
  1. Episodes occur on average for two days per week for at least six months
  1. No regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (purging, fasting, or excessive exercise)
Surprisingly, about 50 percent of people who binge are of normal weight (therefore 50 percent are obese or overweight).  An estimated 2 percent of all adults in the United States (about 4 million) have binge eating disorder.  The disorder may be more common due to the secretive nature of the illness. 
Also, it is important to note that just because you have engaged in overindulgent eating on occasion (ever heard of holiday eating!) the frequency of the behavior is what distinguishes it.  Note the diagnosis describes having 2 episodes of binge eating per week for at least 6 months. 

What are the risk factors for binge eating disorder? 
  1. Depression.
  2. Dieting.  Yes, the mere act of restricting your eating can lead to an eating disorder. 
  3. Poor coping skills.  
  4. Genetics.
Potential complications of binge eating disorder: 
  1. Depression
  2. Suicidal thoughts
  3. Insomnia
  4. Obesity
  5. High blood pressure
  6. Type 2 diabetes
  7. High cholesterol
  8. Gallbladder disease and other digestive problems
  9. Heart disease
  10. Joint pain
  11. Muscle pain
  12. Headache
If you think you have binge eating disorder, what can you do about it?  Binge eating disorder can be managed, but unfortunately it typically does not get better on its own without treatment.  It is extremely important that you seek help if you think you have binge eating disorder.  Seek the advice of your primary care physician, a mental health professional, or any health-care professional who has experience diagnosing and treating eating disorders. 

What are the treatments? Binge eating disorder won't go away on its own. It does require treatment, with the goal of reducing the number of binges.  The best treatments so far all involve some form of psychotherapy and probably the most useful is cognitive behavioral therapy.  CBT can help you learn how to cope with the issues that trigger the binge eating and hopefully reduce the number of episodes, but CBT does not necessarily lead to weight loss.  There are medications indicated for depression, migraines and/or seizures that may be helpful as well, but there is no medication that is FDA-approved for use in binge eating disorder.  Discuss your options with your physician. 

Is there a cure?  There is currently no cure for binge eating disorder, but it can be successfully managed.  Seek help. 

The bottom line:  Binge eating disorder is a medical condition that can threaten your health and your weight-loss goals.  Occasional overeating does not fit the diagnosis.  Binge eating disorder can be triggered by dieting and usually requires help from a mental health professional, but it can be managed and you can still reach your weight loss and fitness goals. 

Consider joining one of these SparkTeams:
Living Binge Free
Compulsive Overeaters

Get help if you need it and keep Sparking!

Have you battled binge eating disorder? What helps you manage it?

Dr. Birdie Varnedore, M.D., is happy to offer her expertise to the SparkPeople community; however, she cannot offer specific medical advice to dailySpark readers. Please do not share confidential medical information here. If you have a personal question or a concern about your health, please contact your health-care provider.

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GRAYGRANNY 3/28/2020
Depression & boredom my worst enemy Report
CECELW 9/14/2019
all of this can apply to most everyone eventually Report
Thank you for the information. Report
Therapy definitely helps! But as with losing weight, you have to be willing to put in the hard work. I've never been officially diagnosed with an eating disorder but I binge ate all the time, for years. Usually due to certain emotions, other times food itself set me off.

Now I completely avoid certain foods that for some reason lead me to binge. Also, I know what emotions are likely to trigger it, and I've learned how to (sometimes) anticipate those feelings & avoid the situation/people/etc as much as possible that cause those emotions... Or, when the emotion is unavoidable, I've learned other coping skills like mindfulness, journaling, etc (thanks to therapy!) so I don't go directly back to binge eating as my first coping mechanism.

Note: this took years of therapy & hard work on my part. It's not easy but it can be managed! Report
Never heard of this but sounds like a massive struggle for those who suffer this waym Report
I fit the bill! Report
Very informative! Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Interesting. Report
It is an addiction just like other addictions, it can kill. Report
I have dealt with this problem ever since I have any memory of feeding myself.
There have been periods when I have
managed to tame the beast, but it is a
matter of constant vigilance. I buy the
smallest size possible of foods likely to
cause problems and I find that if I eliminate
sugar from my diet, as well as most
refined carbohydrates, the problem is not
as severe.
I don’t think this ever goes away, it is
just something that has to be managed. Report
Hadn't heard of this before. Binge eating, yes, but not an identified disorder. Report
Interesting. Report
NARNIAROSE2003 is absolutely correct! In addition to being recognized, according to the mayo clinic, the drug lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse) a drug used to treat ADHD, is now approved to treat binge-eating disorder. It is the first FDA-approved medication to treat moderate to severe binge-eating disorder. Report
Need an update. The disorder is now recognized. Report
I have BED -- and I AM overweight. (In fact, I was borderline obese 2 months ago.) The last major episode is, in part, what set off what I sometimes jokingly refer to as the Mid-Life Crisis (actually not a joke at all,) which in turn sparked my current weight-loss and fitness efforts.

I acknowledge that I have had an unhealthy relationship with food since puberty. I couldn't stand to see leftovers get thrown out, so I would eat them, even if I wasn't hungry. Conversely, I would also feel anxious about not getting "my" share if someone brought in treats, and help myself to second and third helpings. I would steal food, attempt to hide my eating from others, and try to atone for over-consumption by fasting for the next day or two.

During my teens, twenties, and thirties, I was able to keep things somewhat under control. If my binges led to weight gain (which they often did -- usually about 15-20 lbs.), I would lose the weight and, for a time, think that I no longer desired the foods that triggered binges. For some reason, though, I found myself with less and less control during my forties and now fifties.

The last "major" binge episode happened about 2 1/2 months ago. My husband bought a half-gallon of my favorite cookies-n-cream-flavored ice cream for me, and a gallon of the generic cookies-n-cream for himself. I polished off my half-gallon during the season finale of The Walking Dead. By the following weekend, I saw that my husband hadn't yet touched his, so I helped myself to a teaspoon-ful for "just a teensy little taste." I ended up eating the entire gallon!

Then the "event" that sent me into full-blown mid-life crisis mode occurred. I'm still dealing with that, but the upshot was the recognition that I needed to make some drastic changes to my life. I'm not one for seeking out help, especially not "support groups," but I have to admit that feeling accountable to other people who offer encouragement and have walked in my footsteps has been helpful.

I disagree, however, that BED cannot go away on its own. I think it depends on the individual. I believe that, by acknowledging the problem and using the nutrition tracker to stay honest about what I am eating, I can overcome this issue on my own. Report
I fought BED for a long time, it was terrible. Every day, week, then month I didn't binge, I counted as a blessing. It has been 6 to 7 yrs since I have binged. At first I set a goal, I will not binge for 7 days, then 10 and then 30..if I felt it coming and yes I could feel it, I have learned to eat and walk away or have a detox day or other..I also didn't restrict my calories under 1600..this helped a great deal because I lost weight but I wasn't starving. I also limited my exercise to 30 minutes a day. I didn't weigh myself also..I have a hard time sticking to my diet when I weigh myself. All these things have helped me achieve great success. Report
Huh? No cure? I've read differently.
And I know people who healed from BED. Report
Informative article. There needs to be more attention on this this eating disorder.
Very informative! I guess this is one of my problems too. I eat even if I am not hungry. I have tried many methods of losing weight but can't lose weight because I am always eating. But I am now on this diet supplement which is called Roca Labs Formula and it has this Anticraving that fights your cravings. Report
I wish the clinical description of this disorder included a definition of "large" in terms of the amount of food. It's so vague that it can be interpreted as a few hundred calories (which could be a legitimate snack) to a few thousand calories.

The people who came up with it probably left it intentionally vague, but that obviously makes it harder to recognize.

I don't have episodes as frequently as described, but I definitely do have episodes now and then.

Thank you for your article, it opened my eyes. Report
I see this article as something of a waste as it did not do more than reiterate what any person with a binge disorder ALREADY knows. It does not suggest what sort of professional might best be able to assist, what kind of assistance might be most useful, include any data about one sort of treatment as opposed to another or much of anything else that would point the afflicted in a positive direction. In fact a real disappointment since it only outlines a problem and offers no solid direction for assistance. Report
I'm a compulsive/binge eater and have been for over 25 years.I whould like to make friends with others stuggling withCOE/BED like myself.friend me Report
Even though I've been in maintenance for several years, I do still experience episodes of uncontrollable binge eating. Until SP, I didn't know other people did this. After joining SP I "came out of the cupboard" and quit trying to hide the behavior, and admitted to my husband and family members that I do have these times when I am going to eat obscene amounts of food and that I really can't help it.... I do feel it happens much less frequently, but I do in all honesty feel that I will never be totally free of binge eating. Report
I have 3 of those symptoms, but I don't binge twice a week usually. Maybe it is because I am trying to control WHAT I eat more. If I get into something I like the taste of, I cannot stop eating it. The last few weeks that has been certain crackers, potatoes, and even some of that Philadelphia Indulgence Chocolate, which I ate like I used to eat chocolate frosting. I would think that is this binge disorder, but the health programs don't even consider any binging/overeating problem an eating disorder. They only consider anorexia or bulimia eating disorders. I am wondering how involved that treatment is. The only thing they ever consider other than the anorexia and bulimia is depression where they always want to put you on drugs no matter what is causing your problems. Report
Yep, sounds like me...I want to cram a whole bag of cookies down my throat. So frustrating when you really want to loose weight, but those urges still haunt you and you just keep telling yourself that you just don't want to do it again. But really you want to...then you feel like the worst person on earth. A fat person. A guilty person. A person who has lost control. The guilt is the worst. Is it the same as an addiction? I almost never stop thinking about food. What is going to be my next meal? Report
I definitely have battled binge eating. The support on Sparkpeople and a few close friends & family members that I have confided in has really helped. I know that for me it is all tied to my inability to deal with emotional stresses and issues. There are days when I know that my husband won't be at home & I make mental lists of all the food I can eat without him knowing. Thankfully, more times than not, I fight the urges and decide that fitting into my jeans the next day is worth more to me than stuffing myself. But there are still days when the binge eating wins. I would love to know more about this issue. Report
Agreed on most posts here. Was bulemic as a teenager, through 20s and 30s and less so in 40s. Have been only a binge eater since, I think, 2 years ago. Had been only binge eater for a couple of years before that bulemic relapse a couple of years ago. I stayed away from dieting because it always led to bulemia. Even now, with my goal being healthy living, I am still making dietary changes & find myself binging when I have time for me. I try to keep busy with happier things, but my taste buds keep calling. I just started CBT again but have never in all my years admitted in it that I binge. I guess it's time to bring it up so I can overcome it. THANK YOU! This blog couldn't have come at a better time. Report
I used to do this a lot, especially the part about eating in private and hiding any evidence of my food binges. I think it really stems from not being able to handle our emotions in a healthy way, and often involves a great deal of self-loathing. I have managed to keep it pretty well under control the past 2+ years since I started SP, but it takes a lot of support. I never sought medical help, but I had a wonderful support system that included all the resources & friends here at SP, my TOPS weight-loss groups, my amazingly supportive husband, and more important than anything else.... GOD! I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength! Report
Yes, I would like to see more about this disorder. I tried CBT with a therapist. I considered her a wonderful therapist until she told me to 'just eat less' and 'control your eating.' I was amazed at how inconsiderate she was about this problem. Chris Report
I suffer from both binge eating and compulsive overeating, fighting day in and out against impulsive desires and a pathological inability to waste food. I need to work to change my thought process that is behind each binge to help. The most common reason that I use is that when I get to the end of the day I haven't consumed enough calories in the day to maintain and prevent an unwanted drop in weight. So I need to eat more but I get overly elaborate with my options and I end up going overboard into another binge cycle. Report
I feel I have fully "recovered" from this disorder, so I just want to say that there is hope. I was also engaging in some unhealthy restrictive eating behaviors, and the biggest influence in getting out of the vicious bingeing cycle was learning to listen to my body, learning to love myself, and letting food get back to "just being food" and not a measure of success, not an emotional response, and not something to harbor shame and guilt over. For me, I stumbled into a group of friends who enjoyed food, but were not hyper focused on it. It was wonderful luck to meet them when I did, and I actually ended up losing weight very slowly once I stopped beating myself up over everything I put in my mouth. Anyone in need of support, please feel free to send me a message. Report
I have never had any personal experience with this. Report
so what about us that don't do it 2x a week but might not do it for 3 or 4 weeks then do it 4 days in a row? we don't count? Cause I do it a lot particularly around my period but not every single week! Report
These articles also showing a jar of cookies doesn't help . If a health site could actually function by not advertising the foods that create triggers it would actually help more people. Report
Not something easy for me to read, but I know I am making strides in having strategies to curb binge eating. Report
Thank you for this. While I do not binge, I've seen multiple Sparkers talk about trouble they have with it - and can EASILY tell it's not just that they're not trying or that they're weak. It's nice to have a reference, though I was sorry to see there aren't any easy self-help actions for those who would have trouble getting sort of therapy / treatment. Report
I am blessed in that by the grace of God I, one day at a time do not binge.
I am working on delaying gratification, wether it be for food or just the urge to shop.
I even let my 10 dollar coupon at Kohl's lapse because I did not need to shop for anything for several weeks. But it is a hard uphill battle. There was a time when I ate a meal every two hours! It is a spiritual malady. There are therapists and self help Groups that will help if willingness is used as a tool. God Bless. Report
I am 35 years old and I have been binge eating for all of my life. I remember being a kid and sneaking into the kitchen at night to scarf down a bunch of food. The best way that I have found to deal with it is to be aware. When I start feeling emotional and vulnerable I walk away from the kitchen. I keep track of everything that I eat. Its all about not emotional eating. I think we need to talk about these issues more and learn new and better ways to deal with them. Report
I have this uncontrollable disease. I have been struggling for some 25 years! Hope and pray it doesn't affect my daughter!!!! ( Report
Thank you i am currenlty in therapy since July and hve been binge free since then and i find it to be a blessing!! I knew I had the disorder and acted on it because it was hindering my weight los goals. I'm really glad a i sought help! Report
I really appreciate this article but I wish that it weren't referred to as a disease. I'm not diseased. I'm not ill, I'm not infirm. Those of us who binge aren't looking for a cure, at least I'm not, we're looking for better coping mechanisms. Report
Thank you. Report
I do not know if I am a binge eater . Report
Thanks for this article. I have a brother who binge eats and this helps understand some of what he's going through. Report
Thank you for explaining a disorder which I hear mentioned so often but which I knew very little about. Report
Love the article. Report
THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!! finally someone who is adressing this as a eating disorder. I had B.E.D for a lot of years but it was always labeled as being weak and a failure for not sticking to a diet!
NOW i know it is 'not my fault'. I had help and i am coping with positive thinking, exercising daily,because i enjoy it and not because i need to. It is still a hell of a journey but i know i will make it. Report
Thank you for your very interesting article. And thank you for writing about binge eating! We hear to little about it I feel.
I have suffered from binge eating for the last 4 and a half years - it started after a diet which was even more restrictive than the ones I had done before (although at an healthy BMI!). Then it never stopped, and I gained 35 kg. For me, CBT didn't work. I needed to go deeper than that. So I embarked on an analytical psychotherapy,over a year ago, and it is helping tremendously. Almost 3 months ago, my therapist asked: 'What do you eat when you have a binge?' I gave him the list and explained I didn't even like any of these things. So he asked: 'Who eats those?' I explained my parents used to, when I was a child and teenager. By eating these, maybe I thought I would be more acceptable in their eyes? Closer to them? Who knows... What is important is that I haven't had a binge since. Some overeating, but no binge, and it is SO different! No guilt, no shame, no eating more to try and forget how much we are eating... It feels like freedom. I know I am not healed, but doing all I can (thanks to SP too!) to recover.
Thanks again for talking about this issue. Report
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