Binge Eating Disorder Defined

By Eliza Kingsford, MA, LPC Director of Clinical Services, Wellspring at Structure House

Posted on | By Eliza Kingsford, MA, LPC

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is categorized by a few defining factors. The first is the consumption of large quantities of food in discrete periods of time. Large quantities can be somewhat subjective, however; think of this as an amount that is considerably more than what most people would eat within a similar amount of time under the same circumstances. Second, BED is characterized by a person feeling a loss of control while eating. They will often report feeling like they are unable to stop even if they wanted to. Many people describe starting to eat and then losing sense of time and place, feeling “zoned out” or disconnected from the experience. Third, people suffering from BED experience an overwhelming sense of shame and/or guilt after the binge. Often, the person will eat in private due to the shame they feel about their behaviors. Depression, guilt, embarrassment and disgust are all common feelings associated with binge eating behaviors.

Other factors are generally present with BED. These are things like eating more rapidly than most people, with an unnecessary sense of urgency; and eating without feeling physically hungry and far beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. Also, eating until feeling physically ill from the quantity of food consumed.

I thought people with eating disorders were underweight?

The notion that people struggling with an eating disorder are all underweight is largely a myth. In fact, the only eating disorder that even classifies weight as a criterion is anorexia nervosa. Contrary to popular belief, although the number on the scale often becomes the obsession or fixation of someone with an eating disorder, the real problems lie outside of their weight. Many people suffering from bulimia nervosa, BED, or severe emotional overeating are actually categorized as overweight and obese.

Sometimes I eat until I’m stuffed. Is that a binge?

We have all had those experiences in our lives: Your mother cooks the best homemade dinner for your trip home and you overeat until you feel “sick to your stomach.” Or you go out for a big celebratory dinner and you eat all five courses, leaving you feeling “stuffed” and uncomfortable. Although this behavior is still not recommended, it does not automatically put you in the binge eater category. If you ask most people about this behavior, they will explain that this was an isolated event. Often times the person was so physically uncomfortable that the thought of eating again anytime soon was undesirable.

Someone truly suffering from BED will engage in this type of behavior at least twice a week for a period of at least six months. The clear and defining quality of someone suffering with BED versus someone who has an unhealthy tendency of overeating at times is the marked distress that they feel during and after the binge. Binge eaters feel guilt, shame, depression and disgust sometimes during and always after a binge. This distress is different from simply feeling like you wish you hadn’t eaten that much; it is a powerful and debilitating emotion that perpetuates the binge cycle.

Article written by Eliza Kingsford, MA, LPC
Director of Clinical Services, Wellspring at Structure House