View All Articles

Understanding Binge Eating Disorders

October 09, 2015

Research shows between 2 percent to nearly 4 percent of adults have binge eating disorders.

Binge eating disorders (BED) involve consuming excessive amounts of food over a short period and can lead to weight gain and serious health issues like diabetes and heart disease. It is the most common eating disorder in the country.

As a registered dietitian, most of my patients are referred to me for obesity and weight loss counseling, but some patients also deal with BED, especially those who are trying to lose weight or dieting. These disorders also occur in “stress eaters,” or people who are trying to cope with psychological stressors.

Though binge eating affects many kinds of people, it’s most common in those people seeking weight loss by severely restricting calories. This calorie deprivation triggers them to binge eat, creating a vicious and unhealthy cycle. When people binge eat, they often aren’t eating healthy. They consume high-fat foods with lots of carbohydrates that may cause them to gain weight and increase their risk for different chronic health conditions like high blood pressure.

In one binge eating session, a person may eat eight bowls of cereal or a dozen bags of chips, chocolate and other sweets. This overconsumption of food may help them temporarily cope with stress, but afterward they end up feeling worse. With binge eating, people typically eat very fast, when they’re beyond full or not even hungry. During the binge, there’s a high that’s then followed by a crash, as the person feels terrible after eating way too much. People who binge eat also may get depressed, disappointed or embarrassed by their behavior and avoid social activity because of the disorder.

Screening & Treatment

If you or someone you love has BED, it’s important to get proper medical care. A psychiatrist or psychologist can help you understand the emotional triggers that lead to binge eating. A registered dietitian also can help change your eating patterns, and in some cases, medication may help. For some of my patients, support groups also have been very beneficial.

Within the medical community, we’re working to develop better screening tools so we can identify and help people earlier in the process. For registered dietitians, this means asking a patient targeted questions during his or her appointment to better under the person’s diet and weight loss history. The answers to these questions may raise red flags that indicate BED.

Treatment is really effective in helping people overcome BED. If you binge eat, don’t be ashamed to get help. Talk to your doctor, who can then refer you to a specialist. With the help of a psychologist, psychiatrist or registered dietitian, you can begin to establish healthy eating patterns again and improve your overall well-being.