Binge eating disorder can be difficult to identify. If you’re concerned you or a loved one is struggling with binge eating, this page outlines the warning signs, symptoms, and causes of this disorder.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder?
Contrary to popular belief, weight is not necessarily a sign that one suffers from an eating disorder. A person with a binge eating disorder is just as likely to be a normal weight. In fact, most obese people don’t have binge eating disorder.
As with bulimia nervosa, there are often no obvious physical signs or symptoms that someone is suffering with binge eating disorder. However, when a woman has binge eating disorder she often has numerous behavioral signs and symptoms. These may include:
- Eating large amounts of food
- Eating even when full
- Eating rapidly during binge episodes
- Frequent dieting without weight loss
- Frequently eating alone
- Hoarding food
- Hiding empty food containers
Binge eating disorder is more accurately characterized by its emotional symptoms:
- Lack of control once one begins to eat
- Disgust or self-hatred about eating behaviors
After a binge, one may try to diet or eat normal meals. Unlike bulimics, who habitually purge themselves following eating binges, for a binge eater attempting to restrict food intake may simply trigger more binge eating, creating a vicious cycle.
What are the Effects of Binge Eating Disorder?
Overeating on certain occasions is commonplace.
Sometimes, though, binge eating becomes a regular occurrence leaving the person engaging in the overeating filled with feelings of shame. This emotional component of binge eating disorder is the biggest reason someone struggles to stop, and why someone with signs and symptoms finally seeks treatment.
Binge eating disorder has a profound impact on a person. A woman may lose confidence in her ability to control the amount of food consumed once a binge begins. This lack of control quickly spills over to other areas of her life and can have dramatic ramifications on her school, career, and relationships with family and friends.
The symptoms and effects of binge eating disorder are often more extreme in the case of women also suffering with co-occurring disorders, for example, depression or substance abuse. Co-occurring disorders can make it even harder to understand and respond to emotions, and trigger more frequent and more severe binges.
What are the Causes of Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorders differ significantly from the occasional excessive eating behaviors associated with events like birthdays or holiday meals.
For instance, a binge eater may eat 10,000 to 20,000 calories worth of food during a binge, compared to a normal diet of 1,500 to 3,000 calories in a day. The proper classification of binge eating disorder has been a source of significant debate within the eating disorder treatment community. Clinically, patients with the characteristic symptoms are diagnosed as having Eating Disorder NOS (not otherwise specified).
The exact causes of binge eating disorder are unclear. As with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and other eating disorders, it’s likely that a variety of genetic, biological, environmental and social factors are involved. Given the complex emotional elements of the disease process, factors contributing to binge eating disorder will likely differ person to person.
Psychological and emotional characteristics may also contribute to the condition. A person may have low self-worth and trouble managing emotions, expressing anger, or controlling impulsive behaviors. Or, she may suffer a loss or other trauma in her life that causes her eating behaviors to become closely intertwined with her feeling and emotions.
Without question, our society is obsessed with thinness. Images of unrealistically thin models and superstar actors surround us throughout the day. This can add to already distorted body image perception, especially for women. Even people with binge eating disorder who are overweight are acutely aware of their body shape and appearance, and berate themselves after eating binges. The constant reinforcement of thinness may worsen her self-image and actually lead to more frequent bingeing as a woman seeks relief from feelings of shame.
Watch a video with Timberline Knolls on binge eating and eating disorder recovery.
Binge eating disorder is a very serious eating disorder, particularly if it is accompanied by co-occurring disorders. Like bulimia, anorexia, and other eating disorders, binge eating disorder is a medical disease that can result in irreversible health complications, including death. Learn more about binge eating treatment for women and adolescent girls at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.