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Characteristics of Binge-Eating Disorder

Bridget Engel, Psy.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Binge eating disorder was recognized in the DSM-5 for the first time as an official disorder. It is estimated that 1.6% of females and 0.8% of males in the U.S. have binge-eating disorder. Binge eating is more common in people who are seeking weight-loss treatment than those in the general population. Research indicates that people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds are affected equally.

To be diagnosed with Binge-Eating Disorder, a person must:

  • have ongoing episodes of binge eating that happen, on average, at least once a week for 3 month. Binge eating is characterized by the amount of food eaten in a 2-hour period that is larger than what most people would eat in similar circumstances. It also involves a lack of control over eating during that episode. The person may feel like they can't stop eating or control what they are eating.

These binge-eating episodes must have 3 of the following present:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much is being eaten
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or very guilty after the eating binge

The person must also feel distressed about their binge eating.

The binge eating cannot be part of the ongoing use of correcting behaviors as part of bulimia, and do not happen only as part of bulimia or anorexia.

The severity of binge eating disorder is classified based on the number of binge-eating episodes that occur in a week. Those levels are:

  • Mild - 1 to 3
  • Moderate - 4 to 7
  • Severe - 8 to 13
  • Extreme - 14 or more

Health Complications

Unlike with bulimia, people with binge-eating disorder do not show correcting behaviors, such as vomiting, exercising or misusing laxatives and diuretics. While this ultimately makes them physically healthier than those with bulimia, they often gain weight as a result of high-calorie food consumption. People with Binge-Eating Disorder often suffer from health complications due to being overweight. They may have:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • gallbladder disease
  • heart disease
  • respiratory problems
  • menstrual irregularities
  • bone and joint deterioration
  • arthritis
  • certain types of cancer

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