While you may not have heard of binge eating disorder, chances are you know someone who suffers from it. An estimated 4 million Americans have the disorder and that only accounts for reported cases. It’s believed more people suffer from binge eating disorder than anorexia and bulimia combined – making it the most common eating disorder in the United States. Until 2013, binge eating wasn’t recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), but its recent inclusion is good news. Not only does it help patients receive a diagnosis, but many insurance companies will not cover treatment for mental disorders not listed in the DSM.
The best way to determine if you have any type of disorder is to see your physician, but there are some signs to watch for if you suspect you might have binge eating disorder. First, do you recognize yourself engaging in binge eating episodes? This means gorging on large amount of food in a small window of time, but unlike bulimics not purging or using laxatives to rid your body of food. Second, do you feel out of control during these episodes – as if you cannot control what or how much you’re eating? If so, this could be an indicator of binge eating disorder. There are other signs as well. Binge eating episodes are generally associated with three or more of the following:
- Eating more quickly than normal.
- Eating a large amount of food without first feeling physical hunger.
- Eating until uncomfortably full.
- Eating by yourself to avoid feeling embarrassed by what or how much you’re eating.
- Feeling emotional distress after an episode.
While there are obese people who suffer from binge eating, body weight isn’t necessarily an indicator of the disorder. In fact, physically fit professional athletes and television personalities have come forward in the past few years to discuss their struggles with the disorder.
Look for Signs in Loved Ones
Although you may not have a binge eating problem, it’s entirely possible someone you love does and you don’t even know it. That’s because those who suffer from it tend to keep it to themselves. A side effect of the disorder is shame and self-disgust. With this in mind, here are some things to look for if you think your loved one might have binge eating disorder:
- Evidence of binge eating, such as noticing large amounts of food missing in a short period of time or noticing a lot of empty wrappers and containers in a short period of time.
- Secretive eating behaviors, such as eating when no one is around or eating where no one else can see the person eat, such as in a car.
- Seeing a change in normal eating behaviors. This might mean eating throughout the day with no set meal time or skipping meals altogether.
- Periods of rigid dieting, sporadic fasting or developing food rituals.
What to Do
Because binge eating disorder is characterized as a mental disorder, it is imperative you get help as soon as you recognize there could be an issue. Not only can binge eating disorder take a toll on your body in the form of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gallbladder issues, diabetes or heart disease, but it can also be detrimental to your mental well-being. Treatment can range from behavioral therapy to prescription intervention, depending on the severity of the disorder. The bottom line is if you think you or someone you love might have a binge eating problem, talk to your primary care physician and get help as quickly as possible.
Dr. Marjorie Broussard is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Cinco Ranch Clinic. She helps her patients manage chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Her clinical interests include preventive medicine and women’s health.