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Binge Eating Disorder

Written by Taylor Haney, WVU Dietetic Intern

Can’t Stop Binging: Binge Eating Disorder

Hello fellow Mountaineers! After finishing up all of our Eating Disorder Awareness Week events last week, we wanted to start our series discussing differ eating disorder diagnoses.

Binge eating disorder (BED) is one of the most common eating disorders in the US, accounting for roughly half of eating disorder diagnoses (47%). BED has been argued as a disordered eating behavior since the 1950’s but was not officially recognized as its own diagnosis until the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published its 5th Edition (DSM-5) in 2013. 1 Even so, this newer diagnosis is not an indicator of the lack of severity or prevalence of BED throughout history. This disorder is a severe, life-threatening but treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. 2

Binge eating disorder can affect anyone! Any gender, body type, age, ethnicity, race, or demographic categorization. Keep in mind that binge eating disorder is a combination of environmental and emotional factors. There is never just one factor that causes an individual to struggle with an eating disorder. So, what are the complications of binge eating? Like any other eating disorder, negative consequences are associated with binge eating. Complications that are associated with binge eating are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and Type II diabetes. In addition to physical health, individuals tend to struggle with mental and emotional wellbeing and may experience anxiety, depression and negative emotions related to binging. 78.9% of individuals with BED experience a co-occurring diagnosis, as BED behaviors can be a maladaptive coping skill or increase symptoms of other mental disorders such as depression or anxiety. 4

Diagnostic Criteria of Binge Eating Disorder

  1. Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
    • Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances. 3
    • A sense of lack of control overeating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).
  2. The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
    • 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 one is eating
    • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward
  3. Marked distress regarding binge eating is present
  4. The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months
  5. The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. 4

Binge Eating Disorder Statistics

Despite the alarming prevalence of binge eating disorder in Westernized cultures, most people dismiss these behaviors as "emotional eating" or wrongly view them as coping mechanisms. The National Institute on Mental Health provided the following information on BED prevalence and impact:

  • 1.2% of adults in the US struggle with BED.
  • BED is two times more prevalent in females (1.6%) than males (0.8%).
  • Research indicates that 62.6% of those with BED experience impairment in their daily lives and 18.5% experience severe impairment.
  • 78.9% of those with BED experience a comorbid mental health diagnosis.
  • BED often co-occurs with anxiety, mood, impulse control, and substance use disorders.
  • 43.6% of individuals with BED seek treatment, with more women seeking out treatment than men 1

So now that we talked about what binge eating disorder is and the diagnostic criteria along with the statistics, we will discuss common signs and symptoms of binge eating. It is important to note that no single factor causes one to binge. Binge eating can be caused by a combination of risk factors such as family history, genetics, dieting, psychology, and substance abuse. Common indicators can include insomnia, excessive food consumption, loss of control, depression and anxiety, as well as weight changes. 2 Since binging is so complex, the treatment for this disorder requires a team of multidisciplinary professionals. This illness places physical and emotional strain on individuals and can cause ones physical, mental and emotional health to be at risk.

Overall, binge eating is a distressing illness that leaves an individual feeling a loss of control over their actions. This illness often leads to individuals asking the question, “Why can’t I stop eating?”. The unfortunate truth is that there is typically no singular answer to this question. Those with binge eating disorder may find themselves eating to cope with negative feelings, due to a decreased satisfaction with food consumption, as a learned habit, or for a variety of other reasons. It is important to note that those who binge eat do not have the illness because they have a lack of self-control or motivation. Binge eating disorder is a mental health illness that is serious and requires proper treatment and care.


  1. What is Binge Eating Disorder: Symptoms, Risks, & Causes. (n.d.). Eating Disorder Hope. Retrieved February 19, 2022, from
  2. Binge Eating Disorder | National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2022.
  3. I Can’t Stop Binge Eating. (2019, March 27). The Emily Program.
  4. McGurk, J. (2019, January 5). Binge Eating Disorder: An Introduction to the Most Common Eating Disorder | Food & Nutrition Magazine | January/February 2019.
  5. American Psychiatric Association. Feeding and Eating Disorders: DSM-5® Selections. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2016.