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Do You Have Binge Eating Disorder?

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Is it an eating disorder or lack of willpower?

woman binge eating

Maggie Baumann, MA: In one of my recent posts, I wrote about eight common myths associated with eating disorders. I received a couple of comments about one myth that is often overlooked.

The myth is:

"Compulsive overeating or binge eating is not recognized as an eating disorder but a disorder of no willpower."

The fact is, binge eating disorder is one diagnosed category on the continuum of eating disorders.

In the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR), Binge Eating Disorder is not an officially recognized eating disorder, but is included in the category titled, "Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)."

The EDNOS category is a cluster of eating disorders that don't meet the full criteria for the two main types of eating disorders -- anorexia and bulimia.

How Common is Binge Eating Disorder?

According to statistics from the National Eating Disorder Association, binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder, affecting approximately three percent of all adults in the United States. About 60 percent of those struggling are women and 40 percent are men.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating, during which the person is overwhelmed with the loss of control over his or her eating. Unlike bulimia, binge eating disorder is not followed by any type of purging behaviors such as vomiting, excessive exercise, or fasting. Because of the high calorie intake (sometimes thousands and thousands of calories in one sitting), many binge eaters are overweight or obese. However, binge eaters can also be of normal or heavier than average weight if the calorie intake is not as excessive.

It's quite common for people in the general population to dismiss binge eating as a moralistic judgment of someone who has no willpower to stop eating when hunger cues are satisfied. This viewpoint is misleading and incorrect. Like anorexia and bulimia, binge eating disorder is a psychological disorder that also manifests in many physical complications.

Complications Associated with Binge Eating
People who are overweight and also have binge eating disorder are at risk for:

Physical Health Consequences:

• High blood pressure
• Diabetes
• Heart disease
• Gallbladder disease
• Obesity
• Menstrual irregularities
• Certain types of cancers
• Stroke
• Complications during pregnancy
• Arthritis

Psychological Health Consequences
Binges can be viewed as a coping mechanism to deal with daily stresses and feelings. The psychological factors that can be associated with binge eating disorder include:

• Depression
• Anxiety
• Other mood disorders
• Low self-esteem
• Substance abuse
• Suicidal thoughts

Treatment Options

People with binge eating disorder should get help from a mental health professional and registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorder treatment. Of course, binge eaters most often benefit from a supervised weight loss program that includes a balanced exercise plan. However, due to the psychological factors embedded in this disorder, binge eaters should also include eating disorder therapy as part of the comprehensive treatment plan.

Successful treatment therapies offered include:
• Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
• Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
• Interpersonal therapy
• Medication therapy

Seek Help if You Struggle with Binge Eating
Just know you are not alone. Binge eating disorder is not about a lack of willpower, it is a disorder that affects both the mind and body. Getting professional help is the first step in overcoming this disorder. The good news is most people who do well in treatment can overcome binge eating.

Treatment Resources Across the United States
You can find professionals who treat binge eating disorder by accessing either one of these websites: or the National Eating Disorders Association.

3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous October 23, 2009, 10:08 AM

Just an FYI, I believe physical illnesses can cause this too. I was recently diagnosed with insulin resistance. When I’d eat, the insulin would not “attach” to the sugars of my food, meaning that my body was getting little energy from the food and that my body just kept pumping out more (defective) insulin in an attempt to work. As a result, I’d eat and eat and eat in one sitting and always crave a dessert afterward. I’d get disparaging comments and looks, and I’m very overweight. Only now am I beginning to get a handle on this, now that I’m being medicated for insulin resistance. Yes, please talk to your doctor. There could be physical reasons and/or psychological reasons for your overreating, and not a “lack of willpower.”

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