Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States (Carver College of Medicine, 2020). It impacts people of every age, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. If you or a loved one struggles with Binge Eating Disorder (BED), you are not alone.
Binge eating disorder is treatable. Its origins may have roots in trauma, depression, anxiety, and perfectionistic tendencies. The behaviors of BED may be a means to cope with bullying, abuse, assault, or stress (Quilliot, et al, 2019). Alternatively, BED may develop after periods of restricting or dieting. However, recovery is possible; people are healing from BED every day.
The Snowball Effect of Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is characterized by the following:
- Repeated occurrences of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time
- Feeling a loss of control and an inability to stop eating during a binge episode
- Feeling distressed, shameful, regretful, and embarrassed about what one has eaten (NIMA, 2023)
If you or a loved one struggles with BED, a negative feedback loop can occur in which the behaviors of BED are used to cope with the suffering caused by BED. For example, those who struggle with BED often use food consumption to gain comfort when stressed. When a person feels stressed about their BED, they may feel compelled to binge eat to relieve the stress caused by binge eating. This is a painful negative snowball effect. However, freedom is possible.
Comorbidities of Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder rarely occurs in isolation from other disorders. According to NIMA, 78.9% of people diagnosed with BED also have a co-occurring disorder, such as an anxiety disorder, a mood disorder, an impulse-control disorder, or a substance use disorder (NIMA Statistics, 2023).
9 Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
If you or a loved one struggles with BED, you may notice physical, behavioral, and emotional signs of the disorder.
1. Physical and Medical Complications
Binge Eating Disorder has a significant impact on the body. When the body cannot process the volume of food consumed, a person with BED may experience the following medical complications:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- High BMI
- Type II diabetes
- Coronary disease
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Sleep apnea
- Painful joints
If left untreated, the medical complications of BED can reduce both the quality and duration of one’s life (Wassenaar, Friedman, & Mehler, 2019).
If you struggle with BED, during a binge episode, you will eat beyond the point of feeling full. After repeated binge episodes, you might feel disconnected from cues of fullness.
If you think a loved one might struggle with BED, you may notice that they eat larger amounts of food than they previously have eaten in the past. Or you might notice that they eat larger amounts of food than seem necessary.
3. Eating to the Point of Illness
If you think you struggle with BED, you might not notice that you are full until you feel ill. Your body struggles to digest what you’ve consumed. As a result, you might experience nausea, vomiting, and gastrointestinal complications.
If you think a loved one is struggling with BED, you may notice that they become physically ill more often than they have before. You may notice the gastrointestinal effects of their binge.
It’s important to note that although one might vomit as a result of binge eating, BED is distinguished from bulimia nervosa. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binging and intentionally purging after the binge. Purging takes place through induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, or extreme exercise (NIMA, 2023). In contrast, in binge eating disorder, although you might become ill and vomit, the vomiting is not intentionally induced.
4. Hiding Food
If you struggle with BED, you might hide food in private places. This may be due to shame about what you eat or how much you eat. Additionally, you might hide the food to ensure that you have the food available to you.
If you think a loved one could be struggling with BED, you might notice evidence of hidden food. For example, you might notice that food has disappeared from the kitchen or find a large number of wrappers and containers in the trash. You might find stashes of hidden food in your loved one’s room or vehicle. You might notice food-related purchases on a bank account without having seen the purchased food items in the house.
5. Skipping Meals and Eating in Isolation
If you struggle with BED, you might choose not to eat with other people. It might be that you do not want to be judged for what you eat or for how much you eat. You might feel embarrassed to eat in front of others. Additionally, you may have developed rituals around your food consumption and prefer to eat specific items in a specific way.
If you believe a loved one struggles with BED, you may notice that your loved one finds a reason to avoid meals with you. You might notice that they are secretive about their consumption and will become defensive if you wish to talk about it.
6. Periods of Dieting and Fasting
If you struggle with BED, you might attempt periods of dieting and fasting to restrict your food intake. Alternately, if you’ve become ill as a result of BED, you might not desire to eat for a while as your body is healing from the binges.
If you think a loved one struggles with BED, you might notice that they overeat for a while and then appear to under eat. You might notice a pendulum of dieting behaviors with episodes of binging again.
7. Withdrawing from Social Activities
If you struggle with BED, you might notice that food becomes an obsession. It might be that the anticipation of the binge is what gets you through the day. You may feel that other activities pale in comparison to the enjoyment of binge eating. Alternately, since weight gain is a side effect of BED, you might feel ashamed around others even if you do want to socialize. You may wish to connect to others, but embarrassment and low self-esteem stop you.
If you believe a loved one struggles with BED, you may have noticed that they socialize less than they had before. You may have noticed that friendships or partnerships have diminished in importance in their life.
8. Perfectionistic Tendencies
If you struggle with BED, you might notice that you have a co-occurring struggle with perfectionism. You might hold yourself to a very high standard and feel distressed if you do not meet that standard. You might believe that if you are not perfect at a given task, others will be disappointed in you. As you strive for perfection, you may feel exhausted and seek relief from trying so hard. It may be that a binge provides temporary relief from the pain of perfectionism.
If you believe a loved one is struggling with BED, you may notice what seems to be paradoxical behaviors. On the one hand, your loved one may appear to be structured, reliable, and a high achiever. On the other hand, you notice that your loved one struggles to control their behaviors around food. Perfectionism is part of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which often co-occurs with eating disorders (NIMA, Statistics, 2023).
9. Depression, Anxiety, Irritability, and Shame
If you struggle with BED, the disorder can feel as though it controls your life. You might feel powerless against the urges to binge, yet desperately wish to stop binge eating. As a result of this struggle, you might feel as though the life you wish to live of is out of reach. You might feel depressed, anxious, and defeated. You might feel irritable, both as a result of the depression and also as a side effect of some of the medical complications that occur with BED. It might be hard to reach out for help because you feel ashamed.
If you believe your loved one struggles with BED, you may have noticed a change in their mood. They may appear to have lost motivation for things that had once interested them. They may weep more than usual or isolate themselves. They may be more irritable than usual and snap at you for things that didn’t seem to bother them before.
There is Hope
Binge eating disorder is a painful disorder. However, healing is possible. The compassion, clarity, and community that occurs in a supportive treatment environment can be a transformative experience. At Virtual Recovery Center, we have a dedicated team who is passionate about recovery. Contact us today to speak to a recovery specialist about your specific situation.
- Carver College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry (2020, February 13). What is the most common eating disorder? The answer may surprise you. University of Iowa Healthcare. Retrieved March 14, 2023.
- National Institute of Mental Health (2023). Eating Disorders. DOI: https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Eating-Disorders
- National Institute of Mental Health (2023). Statistic of Eating Disorders. DOI: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/eating-disorders
- Quilliot, D., Brunaud, L., Mathieu, J., Quenot, C., Sirveaux, M.A., Kahn, J.P., Ziegler, O., & Witkowski, P. (2019) Links between traumatic experiences in childhood or early adulthood and lifetime binge eating disorder, Psychiatry Research, Volume 276, pg 134-141, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2019.05.008.
- Wassenaar, E., Friedman, J., & Mehler, P. S. (2019). Medical complications of binge eating disorder. Psychiatric Clinics, 42(2), 275-286.