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What is binge eating disorder?

Sarah Kelsey is a lifestyle writer, editor and spokesperson based in Toronto. She was the editor of AOL/The Huffington Post Canada’s StyleList, Style and Living sites. Today, she's a freelancer writing for some of North America’s top pub...

Extreme eating

We've all overeaten during the holidays or on a special occasion, but when binge eating starts to become a regular occurrence, it can be a sign of a condition known as binge eating disorder. If you feel out of control with your eating, here's what you need to know about this eating disorder.
Woman eating junk food

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating is one of the most common eating disorders in the US. In fact, it's diagnosed more often than anorexia nervosa or bulimia. It also affects more women than men. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with binge eating disorder frequently eat large amounts of food, stuffing themselves even though they're full, and usually feel out of control when eating. The difference between binge eating disorder and bulimia (binge eating, then vomiting or using laxatives to rid the body of food) is that sufferers usually don't purge the food they've eaten, though some will starve themselves between episodes of bingeing.

Signs of binge eating disorder

Some common symptoms a person suffering from binge eating disorder may experience include:

  • Eating large amounts of food frequently or in one sitting.
  • Feeling out of control when eating, when food is present or when eating can't be stopped.
  • Eating quickly or in secret.
  • Feeling uncomfortably full most of the time.
  • Experiencing feelings of disgust, shame, embarrassment or depression over the quantity of food consumed.

Who is at risk of developing binge eating disorder?

Even though research into binge eating disorder is relatively new, doctors have a good idea of who may be at most risk of developing the condition.

High-risk populations include:

  • Mildly overweight and obese people
  • Yo-yo dieters
  • People who were overweight in their youth
  • Women

Doctors believe people are more likely to suffer from binge eating disorder if they've experienced low self-esteem, poor body image, depression or issues with food management.

The damage of binge eating disorder

Because binge eating disorder revolves around consuming lots of calories over an extended period of time, complications are markedly similar to those of obesity.

Medical conditions that can occur due to binge eating disorder include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased HDL cholesterol levels
  • Problems with the gall bladder
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Cardiovascular disease (caused by inactivity and being overweight)

How to treat binge eating disorder

The first step to treating the condition is to speak to a doctor. A number of treatments including cognitive behavioral therapy (teaching patients ways to monitor their eating habits), psychotherapy and antidepressant medication.

If you suspect you may have binge eating disorder or any other disordered eating pattern, talk to your doctor to ensure you get help before it becomes a danger to your health.

More on eating disorders

Anorexia and bulimia: Illnesses or lifestyle choices?
Eating disorders on campus: Why you should talk to your teen
Young girls and healthy body image

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