To understand what binge eating disorder is, you first need to understand what it is not. It’s not overeating and consuming more calories than your body needs, even if you do it every day. It is not “grazing” – eating small amounts of food more or less continuously throughout the day. It’s not overindulging on Thanksgiving, eating a giant fast food meal, or even downing a pint of ice cream in one sitting.
Those with binge eating disorder should regularly go on jokes that they consume thousands of calories in one sitting, often far more than the 2,000 calories most adults need for an entire day. Perhaps they indulge in secret and feel a lot of guilt and shame, which affects their relationships with friends, family, and co-workers, says Kathleen Ashton, PhD, a psychologist and assistant professor at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine in Ohio. “Instead of feeling in control of your eating, you feel as if your food is controlling you,” she says.
- Binge at least once a week (on average) for three months, eating significantly more food than most people would eat in any two-hour time frame.
- Feel as if you can’t stop eating or control what or how much you eat
You must also experience at least three of the following:
- Eating more quickly than usual
- Eating to satiety annoyingly
- Eating large amounts of food without feeling physically hungry
- Eating alone because of being embarrassed about the amount of food you eat
- Feelings of disgust, depression, or extreme guilt after a binge
Weight gain and lack of purging is a cause of binge eating disorder
In addition, unlike people with bulimia, people who overeat do not attempt to compensate for the overeating by making themselves vomit, exercising for hours, or using laxatives and enemas. They simply gain weight or attempt to compensate for their binge by severely restricting their intake for hours, even days, a behavior that then leads to another binge. In fact, weight cycling — frequent weight loss and regaining it — is a hallmark of the condition.
Binge eating disorder, just like other eating disorders, is driven by anxiety about being overweight. “Most binge eaters strive to meet the cultural ideal for body shape and weight,” explains Courtney Warren, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Chicago. Their main motivation is, ‘I don’t like the way I look. I’m going to do something about it, so I’m going to lose weight. Then they bind and bind and bind until they binge, and right after that, they feel extra guilt and the cycle starts again.”