What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Many of us use the word “binge” to refer to the times we eat too much-when we take a second helping of dessert, for example, or gorge on Thanksgiving dinner. Overeating can be a challenge for some, but for certain people, compulsive bingeing is a much more serious issue with significant physical and psychological complications.
Binge Eating Disorder (B.E.D.) is a medical condition that involves regular bingeing accompanied by feelings of distress and a sense of losing control. People with B.E.D. may eat too quickly, even when they’re not hungry, to the point of feeling uncomfortable, or even painfully full; they may also eat in secret to hide their bingeing from loved ones. (B.E.D. differs from bulimia because there’s no attempt to get rid of the calories through self-induced vomiting or extreme exercise.)
Compulsive binge-eating episodes occur, on average, at least once a week for three months or more.
How Common is B.E.D.?
B.E.D. is the most common eating disorder-more so than anorexia and bulimia combined-but it’s still under-recognized and often misunderstood. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that the disorder was included as its own category in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a reference manual widely used by mental health professionals. Today, there’s still a lot of shame and lack of awareness of B.E.D., which discourages people from getting help.
The disorder affects people of all shapes and sizes-normal-weight, overweight and obese individuals can have B.E.D. It’s still a widely-held belief that only women and girls suffer from eating disorders, but B.E.D. affects both women and men; in the U.S., it’s estimated that two times as many women are affected as men.
What Causes B.E.D. and What Are the Complications?
The exact cause of B.E.D. is unknown, but there are theories suggesting that family history and brain chemicals could play a role. Some types of stressful life events could also be tied to the disorder.
B.E.D. is associated with mood disorders, anxiety and depression. It also puts you at risk for other medical conditions. A recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that people with B.E.D. were almost twice as likely to experience illnesses of the circulatory system.
Where Can I Get Help?
B.E.D. is a sensitive topic that you may not feel comfortable talking about. But it’s important to start the conversation so that you can get the support you need. If you think you may have B.E.D., reach out to your family doctor. There are several management options available, including cognitive behavioural therapies, nutritional counselling and medication. Asking for help is the first step.