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Binge Eating Overview

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Binge eating disorder affects more men and women than anorexia or bulimia and  is the most common of all eating disorders, affecting an estimated 2 to 5 percent of adults. Like those with bulimia, people with binge eating disorder consume unusually large amounts of food on a regular basis. This compulsion to eat brings about intense feelings of embarrassment, guilt and shame, causing many to hide their behavior. Despite feeling ashamed and disgusted, people with binge eating disorder feel an overwhelming compulsion to continue bingeing well beyond the point of fullness.

Also known as compulsive overeating, binge eating disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of uncontrollable eating, either in one sitting or throughout the day, even when uncomfortably full. Despite a strong desire to stop, they feel out of control and powerless.

Unlike bulimia, people with binge eating disorder do not engage in purging behaviors such as vomiting or over-exercising to rid their bodies of calories. This typically leads to weight gain or obesity and a number of related health consequences, such as diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer. Depression, anxiety and substance abuse are also common among binge eaters.

People with binge eating disorder use food to cope with difficult emotions, but quickly get caught in a destructive cycle where the more they eat the worse they feel. This, in turn, leads to another binge.

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Symptoms

The symptoms of binge eating disorder often begin in adolescence. Because they feel a great deal of shame and powerlessness, individuals with binge eating disorder may go to great lengths to hide their disorder. Even close friends and family members may not realize the individual is suffering so profoundly. Left untreated, compulsive overeating can continue into adulthood with severe emotional and physical health consequences.

The symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Consuming large amounts of food or eating continuously throughout the day
  • Eating rapidly or even when full without feeling satisfied
  • Feeling unable to control your eating
  • Frequent dieting, often without losing weight
  • Feeling disgusted, ashamed or guilty about your eating habits
  • Feeling numb or “out of body” when bingeing
  • Hiding food or eating in secret
  • Eating to cope with stress or other difficult emotions

Dangers of Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder often leads to obesity, which is responsible for as many as 300,000 deaths per year. The disorder often occurs alongside other conditions, such as substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorders and personality disorders.

Some of the medical consequences of binge eating disorder include:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

Causes

While the causes of bulimia aren’t fully understood, there is a clear association between binge eating disorder and depression and other mental health disorders. Most likely, there is a genetic component to binge eating disorder. People with the illness often have a history of dieting, weight gain and eating to cope with feelings of anger, boredom, sadness and other painful emotions.  A number of factors likely play a role, including:

  • Genetics
  • Low Self-Esteem and Poor Body Image
  • Social Ideals of Thinness
  • Environmental Factors (such as unhealthy relationships or criticism about weight)
  • Abuse or Trauma
  • Impulse Control Issues
  • Lack of Healthy Coping Skills
  • History of Dieting
  • Brain Chemistry

Binge Eating Treatment

Binge eating disorder treatment focuses on reducing compulsive eating behaviors, building healthy coping skills and developing positive self-esteem. Depending on your needs, supervised weight loss may be part of binge eating treatment. Like other eating disorders, binge eating disorder is complex and requires comprehensive treatment to address the underlying emotional and psychological issues as well as any medical complications. Whether an individual is normal weight, overweight or obese, they can benefit from binge eating disorder treatment.

Some of the most common treatments for binge eating include:

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Family and Group Therapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Weight Management and Menu Planning
  • Medication
  • Nutrition Therapy
  • Culinary Therapy

Specialized binge eating programs may treat both the eating disorder and obesity at the same time. These programs address the triggers for binge eating and teach healthier ways to cope. Meal planning, intensive therapy and fitness training combine to produce gradual lifestyle changes and long-term weight loss. In some cases, a stay in a residential eating disorder treatment program offers the best opportunity for lasting recovery. Staffed by eating disorder specialists, these programs take a comprehensive and holistic approach to treating eating disorders before initiating a weight loss plan.