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Binge eating disorder is characterized by eating very large amounts of food in a short time period, often to the point of discomfort, accompanied by the feeling that you’ve lost control. Binge eating episodes are usually followed by shame and guilt. Unlike bulimia, a binge eating episode doesn’t involve purging. People who have binge eating disorder may be of a normal weight, although being overweight or obese is also associated with binge eating.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, binge eating is the most common eating disorder in the United States. Nearly four percent of women and two percent of men struggle with binge eating.

Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Mayo Clinic cites low self-esteem or a poor body image as well as negative feelings about life accomplishments as a reason many people binge eat. Dieting or reducing caloric intake during the day can trigger a binge eating episode, as can stress and boredom. Some people who have binge eating disorder also suffer from depression.

Binge eating episodes involve eating a much larger amount of food in a discrete period of time than is normal. In order to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder, three of the following eight criteria must be met:

  • You eat faster than normal during the episode.
  • You eat until you’re uncomfortably full.
  • You eat a large amount of food even when you’re not particularly hungry.
  • You binge eat alone out of embarrassment.
  • You feel ashamed, guilty or disgusted afterward.
  • Your binge eating causes you distress.
  • You binge eat at least once a week for a period of at least three months.
  • You don’t compensate for your binges by inducing vomiting or taking laxatives.

Some of the behavioral characteristics of binge eating include hiding, stealing or hoarding food and making lifestyle changes to accommodate your binge eating episodes. Emotions associated with the moments before binge eating include anger, shame and anxiety, but while you’re eating, you may feel a release of tension and a numbing of negative emotions. People with binge eating disorder may have personality traits that include rigidity and inflexibility, a need to be in control, problems expressing their feelings and tendencies toward perfectionism.

Health Effects of Binge Eating Disorder

Clinical obesity is the most common health risk of binge eating disorder. Other health effects, some of which may be associated with obesity, include high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease and sleep apnea. Anxiety and major depression often co-occur with binge eating disorder, and eating disorders in general are associated with an increased risk of premature mortality from suicide or medical problems.

Treating Binge Eating Disorder

A number of evidence-based treatments have proven effective at helping people overcome binge eating disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps you learn to identify self-destructive thoughts and behaviors and replace them with healthier ones; interpersonal therapy, which helps you learn to more effectively communicate and interact with others; and dialectical therapy, which helps you better regulate your emotions, improve your self-esteem, and develop coping skills and strategies.

Several medications have been approved by the FDA to treat binge eatingEating Disorder Treatment Los Angeles disorder. These include Vyvanse, the trade name for a stimulant drug also used to treat ADHD; Topamax, an anticonvulsant that has been found to reduce binge-eating episodes; and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which affect brain chemicals related to mood.

If you are overweight or obese, treatment will likely include a medically supervised weight loss program.

A Holistic Approach is Ideal

A high-quality, holistic treatment program for binge eating disorder will address issues of the body, mind and spirit to help you improve your physical and mental health and increase your overall quality of life. Understanding the underlying issues surrounding the disorder and engaging in a variety of traditional and alternative treatment therapies that help reduce stress and improve self-esteem can help you overcome binge eating disorder for the long-term.

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All About Eating Disorders, Part 3: Binge Eating Disorder
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