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Binge Eating Disorder

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The most common eating disorder is one many people have never heard about. Binge Eating Disorder (BED), sometimes called compulsive eating disorder or compulsive overeating, is characterized by regularly eating a large quantity of food at a rapid rate regardless of hunger. People with BED often report feeling a loss of control during the eating episode and feelings of shame afterward. They sometimes eat alone or in hiding out of embarrassment about how much they are eating. 

There are many misconceptions about BED. It affects people of all ages, sexes, and sizes.  Some people mistakenly believe that binge eating is associated with a lack of will power. In reality, it is related to other causes.

  • People who have found food comforting after a traumatic episode or during stressful times sometimes become accustomed to turning to food to soothe their emotional discomfort long term. 
  • Those raised in families who overeat and those who put an unnatural emphasis on food or weight are more likely to have BED. Members of families who reward with food, who use food as a means of comfort, and who ritualize overeating might find themselves at increased risk for developing BED.  
  • Poor body image and low self-esteem are hallmarks of BED. People with BED often go on restrictive diets to try to lose weight quickly. The behavior becomes cyclical. A person over restricts their eating or denies certain foods, binges on those same foods, feels guilty or ashamed, and restricts again.

Binge eating can come with serious health consequences, including a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. People with BED may suffer with trouble sleeping, acid reflux and other digestive issues, joint pain, and depression.

If you feel you might have BED, be open with your primary care provider. They may recommend therapy, guidance from a registered dietitian, medications, or a combination of these. If you find that too difficult, you may try contacting the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline via online chat, text, or voice call. Ending the cycle of binge eating could be the best thing you do for yourself in 2023.

Doris Russell is assistant director of Substance Use and Mental Health at United Counseling Service in Bennington.

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