Binge eating disorder isn't the same as occasional overeating. Plenty of people eat too much once in a while. Who hasn’t had a stomachache after a huge Thanksgiving dinner? People with this eating disorder, though, feel compelled to do so on a regular basis -- at least once a week over a period of 3 months or longer.
People who have binge eating disorder feel they can't control how much or even what they're eating. They often eat alone, until they feel sick, or when they’re not hungry. Guilt, shame, disgust, or sadness come after the binge. People may feel so embarrassed about their behavior that they go out of their way to hide it from friends and family.
It's Different From Bulimia
Bulimia and binge eating disorder aren't the same, although they share some symptoms.
People with bulimia also regularly overeat, and they may feel the same negative emotions, such as a loss of control, shame, or guilt. The key difference is that people with bulimia "purge" afterward. They might make themselves vomit, use laxatives or diuretics, or exercise too much. Purging is not part of binge eating disorder.
How It Affects Weight
Many people who develop binge eating disorder also struggle with their weight. Among people with the disorder, about two-thirds are obese, and one study found that as many as 30% of people who seek weight-loss treatment may also have it. People who are overweight or obese are also at risk for related health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?
Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes eating disorders. A mix of factors, including a person's genes, psychology, and background, may be involved. Dieting can lead to binge eating disorder, but we don't know whether that alone can trigger it. Some people may be extra sensitive to food cues, such as smells or images of food. The disorder can also result from stressful or traumatic life events, such as the death of a loved one or being teased about weight.
Treatment: Help With Thoughts, Feelings, and Food
Talking with a psychiatrist or other counselor is key in working on emotional issues. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to change the negative thought patterns that can spark binge eating. Interpersonal therapy (IPT) addresses relationship problems that may be involved. It also helps to work with a nutritionist to learn healthy eating habits and keep a food diary as you're recovering.
If you're at risk for binge eating disorder, you can take action to avoid getting it. Watch for feelings such as, guilt, shame, or being impulsive around food, or having low self-esteem. If you have these kinds of issues, or if eating disorders run in your family, talk to a doctor or a therapist.