Signs & Symptoms of Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder, also known as BED, is a combined type of disordered eating and emotional disorder that is defined by chronic and compulsive patterns of eating excessive amounts of food past the point of feeling full. An illness that can affect both men and women, those who participate in the behaviors associated with binge eating disorder almost always experience feelings of shame, guilt, and disgust with themselves during and after the binging episode. Despite such negative feelings of emotional turmoil, and despite the onset of functional impairments that can result from BED behaviors, those who are suffering from this form of disordered eating find themselves incapable of ceasing this devastating pattern of behaviors. With proper treatment and therapeutic intervention, however, the symptoms of binge eating disorder can be successfully managed.

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Research has shown that binge eating disorder is more common than anorexia and bulimia, believed to affect 1 in every 35 adults in the United States. This is the equivalent of approximately 3-5 percent of women and approximately 2 percent of men. In general, disordered eating is seen more prominently in women; however, binge eating disorder specifically has a 40 percent occurrence in men, making the total number of men suffering from this form of disordered eating almost equal to the number of women.

Causes and Risk Factors for Binge-Eating Disorder

Researchers and professionals in the field of mental health believe that there is a combination of factors working together that render individuals susceptible to experiencing the onset of binge eating disorder.

Genetic: While there have yet to be any specific genes identified as being directly linked to the development of binge eating disorder, research has shown that this is a disorder that has been known to run in families, demonstrating the presence of additive genetic influences.

Environmental: Environmental factors can play a tremendous role in the onset and continuation of binge eating behaviors. Individuals who are subjected to constant criticism, or who have suffered from abuse or neglect, may turn to food as a means of finding comfort. However, this quickly becomes a problem as these people begin to feel as though food is their only sense of comfort and thus, begin the destructive pattern of binge eating. Additionally, some parents may unknowingly set the stage for the future onset of binge eating disorder if they frequently use food as a means of rewarding their child, comforting their child, or dismissing or pacifying their child.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of depression or other mental health condition
  • Family history of disordered eating, depression, or other mental health conditions
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lacking healthy coping skills
  • Lacking a support network
  • Pervasive familial or relationship discord
  • Being the victim of ongoing criticism or bullying
  • Suffering from abuse and/or neglect

Signs and Symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder

While the specific signs and symptoms that are displayed by an individual with binge eating disorder will vary from person to person, the most common include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating
  • Eating excessive amounts of food, despite not being hungry
  • Eating at a much more rapid pace than would be considered normal
  • Hiding food or hiding wrappers from food
  • Eating alone as the result of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating
  • Constantly eating throughout the day, regardless of the time of day or night
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends
  • Going to great lengths to try to please others

Physical symptoms:

  • Heart problems
  • Blood pressure issues
  • Panic attacks
  • Overwhelming feelings of fatigue
  • Abnormal blood-sugar levels
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Having difficulty walking
  • Having difficulty engaging in various forms of physical activity

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Perfectionism
  • Rigid thinking patterns
  • Intrusive thoughts regarding a need to be in control
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Memory disturbances

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of disgust with oneself
  • Feelings of shame and guilt
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Binge-Eating Disorder

The effects of untreated binge eating disorder can be long-lasting and far-reaching. Depending on the severity of the symptoms present, such effects will vary from person to person but may include the following:

  • Irreversible health impairments
  • Onset of serious health complications
  • Development of obesity
  • Decreased overall quality of life
  • Decreased life satisfaction
  • Impaired, dysfunctional, or nonexistent significant interpersonal relationships
  • Social role adjustment issues
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Presence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

It is not uncommon for individuals who are suffering from binge eating disorder to suffer from symptoms that are synonymous with other mental illnesses as well. Examples of various disorders known to occur alongside BED can include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders
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