Though most everyone overeats occasionally, binge eating disorder does not refer to an occasional episode of overeating or even a trend of habitual overeating but to a distinct pattern of "eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances." (DSM-IV)

It is also characterized by "a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)" and three or more of the following:

  • "Eating much more rapidly than normal.
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months."
Binge Eating Disorder is also distinguished from bulimia nervosa by the fact that people with BED do not engage in compensatory behaviors like purging, overexercising, or excessive fasting after their binges, and the binging behaviors also should not occur exclusively during the course of a restrictive eating disorder like anorexia nervosa.

About 2.6 percent of the population suffers from Binge Eating Disorder, including 3.5 percent of adult women and 2 percent of adult men. For men, binge eating disorder is most common in midlife, but for women it most commonly starts in early adulthood. However, Binge Eating Disorder can begin at any age, even in childhood, and 1.6 percent of teenagers are also BED sufferers.

Studies also suggest that 97 percent of people whose behavior would qualify them for Binge Eating Disorder have not received a formal diagnosis, so these figures may actually be even higher.

It's important to be aware of and to work to combat Binge Eating Disorder because of the devastating effect that disease can have on sufferers' physical and mental health. Though not everyone who is obese suffers from binge eating disorder and some frequent binge eaters manage to maintain a normal weight, up to two-thirds of those who suffer from binge eating disorder are clinically obese.

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Binge Eating Disorder seems to be caused by a mixture of biological, psychological and social causes. First, BED tends to be correlated with other psychological problems like depression, attention deficit disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, in which case treating the underlying issues may be key to getting the binge eating under control.

Hormonal irregularities that interfere with appetite like polycystic ovarian syndrome may also increase someone's risk of binge eating, and studies have shown that the brains of people with BED often indicate increased sensitivity to the reward chemical dopamine and deficits in the areas associated with impulse control. Some experts have also associated BED with disturbances in gut microbiota that may lead to increased cravings.

Since BED often runs in families, it is likely that it also has a genetic component, though using overeating as a coping mechanism can also be learned behavior modeled in families.

Body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and social pressure to be thin are also thought to contribute to binge eating disorder, so becoming more body-positive could be an important step on your road to recovery. If you learn to see food as morally neutral and yourself as attractive and acceptable at any weight, you may start to find that food is now not such a "big deal" and that you aren't driven to binge after every dieting slip up.

Investigating your BED in therapy may also to help you to discover and address the emotional issues and unhealthy thought patterns that are driving your bingeing and discover healthier alternatives to eating mindlessly.

In some cases, medication to improve impulse control, improve obsessive thoughts around food, or improve mood to reduce the risk of harmful "comfort eating" may also be helpful.

People with BED may also do well to reconsider the type of food they are eating. Since sugar and other components food can create a physically addictive "high" similar to the way drugs can, some people with BED find it helpful to remove these from your diet in favor of whole foods that help them feel healthier, more in control, and more satiated.

Experts also recommend that people with BED eat regularly to avoiding getting so hungry that they feel out of control, and to avoid diets that cut out entire food groups for long periods of time that could to lead to rebounding into a binge on "forbidden" foods. Instead, they should focus on learning to enjoy all types of food in moderation.

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