Have You Heard of Binge Eating Disorder (BED)?

It’s a real medical condition that’s more than just overeating.

What is binge eating disorder (BED)?Photo: iStock

Most people occasionally overindulge at meals or binge on special occasions, like birthdays or holidays. After overeating, you may feel a twinge of guilt or regret, but those feelings soon subside. However, for some people, compulsive eating can be a serious issue, with effects that linger long after that second (or third) helping of birthday cake.

So, what exactly is BED?

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a medical condition that involves regular binges accompanied by feelings of distress and a sense of losing control. People with BED may eat too quickly, eat well beyond the point of feeling full, and consume large amounts of food even when they’re not hungry. (The disorder differs from bulimia because there’s no purging afterwards.) With BED, binge eating episodes occur at least once a week for three months or more.

Compulsive overeating in this way brings on feelings of shame and self-loathing, so BED sufferers may eat in secret to hide their bingeing from their spouse, family and friends. Unfortunately, this secret shame can prevent them from reaching out for help.

Many suffer in silence because they don’t think their bingeing is a serious medical issue. In truth, this mental-health condition is linked to significant physical and psychological complications, including mood disorders, anxiety and depression. Over time, it can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and gastrointestinal issues.

Living with BED is very difficult.

The good news: Recovery is possible

There are several strategies and solutions to help manage Binge Eating Disorder. Some people may benefit from cognitive-behavioural therapy and behavioural modification programs to ease their symptoms; others find that peer support groups helps decrease social isolation, which can lessen the stigma and shame of compulsive eating. In certain cases, a doctor might prescribe medication to help treat the disorder.

A holistic treatment plan combining various therapies can make a real difference.

Reach out for help

BED is the most common eating disorder in Canada—more common than anorexia and bulimia combined. But despite its prevalence, BED was only recognized by the American Psychiatric Association four years ago, with the release of its influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The lack of awareness means that BED is commonly misunderstood by sufferers, who don’t recognize the signs and symptoms.

BED can occur in individuals in a range of sizes; it also affects more men than any other eating disorder. If you recognize these eating patterns in yourself, or in someone you love, reach out to your family physician, or get more information from organizations such as the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), Anorexie et Boulimie Québec (ANEB), or the National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED).

BED is more than just overeating—it’s a real medical condition. You don’t have to live with compulsive overeating. Asking for help is the first step.

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