“What defines ‘Binge Eating Disorder’?”
When you overeat, it’s probably because the food is in front of you—a second helping of dessert, for example—or it’s a special occasion, like a birthday or vacation. B.E.D. is more than overeating from time to time. In fact, the criteria for diagnosis are very specific.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association recognized B.E.D. as its own category of eating disorder, through recognition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the gold standard of diagnostic reference guides. According to the DSM-5, the disorder involves episodes of bingeing (eating large amounts of food in a short period of time), which occur at least once a week, for three months or more. People with B.E.D. may eat faster than usual, or in secret, even when they’re not physically hungry.
The disorder affects not only how you eat, but also how you feel: A person with B.E.D. can’t control their actions during a bingeing episode, so they may eat until they feel uncomfortable, or even painfully full. This can cause distress, guilt or disgust.
A diagnosis of B.E.D. can be classified as mild (1 to 3 binge eating episodes a week) to extreme (14 or more episodes per week.)
“What triggers an episode of bingeing?”
According to the DSM-5, there are some common triggers for bingeing episodes. A big one is having a negative mood, right before an episode. Other triggers include stress, or dietary restriction. Feeling bad about things—weight or body shape, or even food itself—can also lead to a binge. Binge Eating Disorder can be a vicious cycle of binging, feeling bad, and then bingeing again.
“How is binge eating disorder different from bulimia?”
Like B.E.D., bulimia involves regular episodes of bingeing, as well as a sense of no control. However, with bulimia there’s an attempt to get rid of the calories that have been consumed, through behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, misusing laxatives, or with excessive exercise.
B.E.D. is more common than bulimia: A study out of Harvard Medical School found that the lifetime prevalence of the disorder among women was estimated at 3.5 percent, compared to 1.5 percent for bulimia nervosa. Among men, it’s estimated that 2 percent will struggle with B.E.D., and 0.5 percent with bulimia.
“How common is the disorder?”
Although B.E.D. is more common than anorexia and bulimia combined, not everyone who needs help gets it. In a 2013 study of participants in the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health survey, just 38 percent of people with a lifetime diagnosis of B.E.D. received treatment for their eating disorder. The study, which gathered information across 14 countries, also found that men were less likely to receive treatment than women.
“How do I talk to my doctor?”
You may be reluctant to discuss eating disorders with your doctor—it’s a sensitive topic, no question. But keep in mind that there’s been increased awareness of B.E.D. as a medical disorder, and health care professionals are better informed about the disorder and its treatment options. If you think you may be suffering from B.E.D., reach out to your family doctor and start the conversation.