Binge eating disorder

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Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating without subsequent purging episodes. The disorder was first described in 1959 by psychiatrist and researcher Albert Stunkard as "night eating syndrome" (NES), and the term "binge eating disorder" was coined to describe the same binging-type eating behavior without the exclusive nocturnal component. BED usually leads to obesity although it can occur in normal weight individuals. There may be a genetic inheritance factor involved in BED independent of other obesity risks and there is also a higher incidence of psychiatric comorbidity, with the percentage of individuals with BED and an Axis I comorbid psychiatric disorder being 78.9% and for those with subclinical BED, 63.6%.[1][2][3][4]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

All of the following must be present to classify as binge eating disorder.[5]

Also, an individual must have 3 or more of the following symptoms:


A correlation between dietary restraint and the occurrence of binge eating has been convincingly shown in several investigations.[6][7]

While binge eaters are often believed to be lacking in self-control, the root of such behavior might instead be linked to rigid dieting practices. Binge eating may begin when individuals recover from an adoption of rigid eating habits. When under a strict diet that mimics the effects of starvation, the body may be preparing for a new type of behavior pattern, one that consumes a large amount of food in a relatively short period of time.

The relationship between strict dieting and later binging may explain the high numbers of people who become trapped in a cycle of dieting and weight gain, often reaching higher and higher weights after each round of dieting and binging.[8]

Dieting involves setting rules about what to eat and when. If those rules are occasionally broken, for example, by eating a food you are not allowed or eating more than you should, some people think that their diet is ruined. As a consequence, they eat all they want and plan to start their diet again the next day. Negative emotions are also common causes of binge eating.[9]


Individuals who have Binge eating disorder commonly have other psychiatric comorbidities such as major depressive disorder, personality disorder, or difficulties coping with anxiety.[10] Binge eating symptoms are also present in bulimia nervosa. The formal diagnosis criteria differ, however, in that subjects must binge at least twice per week for a minimum period of three months for bulimia nervosa and a minimum of 6 months for BED.[11] (This has changed in the DSM 5). Unlike in bulimia, those with BED do not purge, fast or engage in strenuous exercise after binge eating. Additionally, bulimics are typically of normal weight, are underweight but have been overweight before, or are somewhat overweight. Those with BED are more likely to be obese.

Binge eating disorder is similar to, but distinct from, compulsive overeating. Those with BED do not have a compulsion to overeat and do not spend a great deal of time fantasizing about food. On the contrary, some people with binge eating disorder have very negative feelings about food. As with other eating disorders, binge eating is an "expressive disorder"—a disorder that is an expression of deeper psychological problems. Some researchers believe BED is a milder form or subset of bulimia nervosa, while others argue that it is its own distinct disorder. The DSM-IV categorizes it under Eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), an indication that more research is needed. As of 2013 and the publication of the DSM-5, binge eating disorder no longer falls under EDNOS - it has its own diagnosis as an eating disorder. [12]


Most people with this disorder are overweight and often obese,[citation needed] but people of a healthy weight can also suffer from it.

About two percent of all adults in the United States (as many as four million people) have binge eating disorder.[citation needed] About ten to fifteen percent of people who are moderately obese and who try to lose weight on their own or through commercial weight-loss programs have binge eating disorder. The disorder is even more common in people who are severely obese.

Binge eating disorder is almost twice as common among women as among men, though the difference between genders is less pronounced than in other eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. The disorder is found in all cultures and ethnicities. People who are obese and have binge eating disorder often became overweight at an earlier age than those without the disorder. They might also lose and gain back weight more often, or be hypervigilant about gaining weight.

Other risk factors may include childhood obesity, critical comments about weight, low self-esteem, depression, and physical or sexual abuse in childhood. [13] A study in behavior genetics has also suggested that binge eating disorder may have a genetic component. It has been found that 20% of relatives of obese individuals with binge eating disorder also have binge eating disorder, compared to 9% of relatives of obese individuals without binge eating disorder.


While people of a healthy weight may overeat occasionally, an ongoing habit of consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time ultimately leads to weight gain and obesity. The main health consequences of this type of eating disorder is brought on by the weight gain resulting from the binging episodes.

People with binge eating disorder may become ill due to a lack of proper nutrition. Binging episodes usually include foods that are high in fat, sugar, and/or salt, but low in vitamins and minerals. Individuals are often upset about their binge eating and may become depressed. Those who are obese and also have BED are at risk for Type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension (high blood pressure), hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol levels), gallbladder disease, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.[citation needed]

Most people with binge eating disorder have tried to control it on their own, but have not been able to for very long. Some people miss work, school, or social activities to binge eat. Obese people with BED often have very low self-esteem and may avoid social gatherings. Those who binge eat, whether obese or not, are aware of their disordered eating patterns, and try to hide their disorder out of shame. Often they become so adept at hiding it that even close friends and family members are unaware that they binge eat.


People with binge eating disorder often find help from health professionals including physicians, nutritionists, psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers or attending 12-step Overeaters Anonymous meetings to be beneficial. Even those who are not overweight are usually upset by their binge eating, and treatment can help them.

Although mental health professionals may be attuned to the signs of binge eating disorders, many physicians do not raise the question, often because they are uninformed about the specifics of the condition. Because it was not a recognized psychiatric disorder in the DSM-IV, it has been difficult to obtain insurance reimbursement for treatments.[14] However, with the publication of DSM-5, BED has now been included as an eating disorder in its own right, instead of as part of the EDNOS category as in the DSM-IV. [15]

There are several different ways to treat binge eating disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches people how to keep track of their eating and change their unhealthy eating habits. It also teaches them how to change the way they act in difficult situations. Interpersonal psychotherapy helps people to look at their relationships with friends and family and make changes in problem areas.

Pharmacologic treatment[edit]

Three classes of medications are typically used in the treatment of Binge eating disorder: antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and anti-obesity medications.[10] Antidepressant medications of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class such as fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, or sertraline have been found to effectively reduce episodes of binge eating and reduce weight.[10] Similarly, anticonvulsant medications such as topiramate and zonisamide may be able to effectively suppress appetite.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hudson, JI; Hiripi, E; Pope Jr, HG; Kessler, RC (2007). "The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication". Biological Psychiatry 61 (3): 348–58. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.03.040. PMC 1892232. PMID 16815322. 
  2. ^ Cooper, Z; Fairburn, CG (2003). "Refining the definition of binge eating disorder and nonpurging bulimia nervosa". The International Journal of Eating Disorders. 34 Suppl: S89–95. doi:10.1002/eat.10208. PMID 12900989. 
  3. ^ Hudson, JI; Lalonde, JK; Berry, JM; Pindyck, LJ; Bulik, CM; Crow, SJ; McElroy, SL; Laird, NM et al. (2006). "Binge-eating disorder as a distinct familial phenotype in obese individuals". Archives of General Psychiatry 63 (3): 313–9. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.63.3.313. PMID 16520437. 
  4. ^ De Zwaan, M; Friederich, HC (2006). "Binge eating disorder". Therapeutische Umschau. Revue therapeutique 63 (8): 529–33. doi:10.1024/0040-5930.63.8.529. PMID 16941397. 
  5. ^ Binge Eating Disorder Help: The World's Most Comprehensive Eating Disorder Referral and Information Website, anorexia, eating disorders, binge eating
  6. ^ Reinhard J. Tuschl, 1989. "From dietary restraint to binge eating: Some theoretical considerations". Volume 14, Issue 2, April 1990, Pages 105–109
  7. ^ "Why Extreme Dieting Sometimes Leads To Eating Disorder Treatment"
  8. ^ 07/05/2011. "Binge Eating may be Caused by Rigidity in Dieting"
  9. ^ 6 September 2010 "What is binge eating disorder?"
  10. ^ a b c d Marazziti D, Corsi M, Baroni S, Consoli G, Catena-Dell'Osso M (December 2012). "Latest advancements in the pharmacological treatment of binge eating disorder". Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 16 (15): 2102–7. PMID 23280026. 
  11. ^ United States Department of Health and Human Services - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2007-07-10). "Eating Disorders". Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Fairburn et. al, 1998. "The classification of recurrent overeating: the "binge eating disorder" proposal". International Journal of Eating Disorders 13: 155-159;2-T/abstract
  14. ^ Binge Eating Disorder: Surprisingly Common, Seriously Under-treated . Psychiatric Times, April 3, 2007.
  15. ^ "A Guide to DSM-5: Binge Eating Disorder". Retrieved 2013-06-08. 


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