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What is Binge Eating Disorder?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 May 2018
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Binge eating disorder is quickly becoming recognized as a serious eating disorder, on the level of anorexia nervosa and bulimia. The person who binge eats, usually does not induce vomiting (binge and purge) after an eating episode. Instead the condition is typically noted as binging only, which is usually accompanied by feelings of extreme guilt about the behavior.

Overeating every once in a while, especially in context of a celebration or holiday isn’t that uncommon. While dieticians urge people to consume a moderate amount of calories, even at special events, this advice isn’t always heeded. This is still not the same as having binge eating disorder.

The contrast between binge eating and overeating can be clearly illustrated. At the high end of the spectrum, an adult might consume 3000 calories a day, and at the lower end, people might eat about 1500 calories a day. In a single eating session (usually about two hours in length), the person with binge eating disorder could eat an average of 15,000 calories or more. That’s five to ten times normal calorie intake for a day, or roughly 10-12 large buttered popcorns from a movie theater consumed during the average length of a movie.

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Rapid consumption of calories is only part of binge eating disorder. People often try to hide their eating habits, they may also hide food to be consumed later, and may suffer from depression or anxiety disorder. Many people with this condition are overweight too. The binge eater knows that his/her behavior is wrong and usually feels very guilty and upset about it, but these feelings may only exacerbate the problem and the person may feel unable to stop. Often a vicious cycle gets established where binges result in personal commitments to eat healthily and to diet, but feelings of deprivation from dieting can create greater need to binge again.

Recommending a healthy diet alone doesn’t necessarily help the person with binge eating disorder, since it stems from several things. First, there is clearly a psychological element to binging, where food is seen as comfort or binging itself is used as a form of medication to treat emotional conditions. Childhood history may make some people more susceptible to this condition, and there is some relationship between sexual abuse and binge eating. There’s also belief that minute disregulatons of the digestive system may cause binge eating disorder, though this is, as yet, unproven.

For now there is some help for those with binge eating disorder. Therapy, either psychodynamic or cognitive behavioral therapy, appears to help effectively treat binge eating. This may be paired with medications that can help reduce compulsive tendencies or treat depression and anxiety. There are also some clinics that work with people with many kinds of eating disorders, and these may have outpatient and/or inpatient programs.

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