To understand what binge eating disorder is, you first have to understand what it is not. It is not overeating and taking in more calories than your body needs, even if you do that every day. It is not “grazing” — eating small amounts of food more or less continuously throughout the day. It is not overindulging on Thanksgiving, plowing through a giant fast food meal, or even demolishing a pint of ice cream in one sitting.
To have BED you must experience profound despair about your eating habits. You must regularly go on eating jags in which you consume thousands of calories in one sitting, often far more than the 2,000 calories most adults need for an entire day. And you probably binge in secret, and feel so much guilt and shame that it affects your relationships with friends, family, and coworkers, says Kathleen Ashton, PhD, a psychologist and an associate professor at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine in Ohio. “Instead of feeling in control of your eating, you feel as if your eating is controlling you,” she says.
- Binge at least once a week for three months, eating in one episode more food than most people would eat within any two-hour time frame
- Feel as if you can’t stop eating or control what or how much you’re eating
You also must experience at least three of the following:
- Eating much more rapidly than is normal
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food while not feeling physically hungry
- Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much you are eating
- Feeling disgusted, depressed, or very guilty after binging
Weight Cycling and Lack of Purging Unique to Binge Eating Disorder
In addition, unlike people with bulimia, binge eaters do not try to compensate for overeating by making themselves vomit, exercising for hours, or using laxatives and enemas. They simply gain weight or they attempt to atone for their binges by severely restricting their eating for hours, even days, a behavior that then triggers another binge. Indeed, weight cycling — repeatedly losing weight and regaining it — is a hallmark of the condition.
Binge eating disorder, just like other eating disorders, is driven by concern over weight. “Most binge eaters are striving to meet the culturally idealized version of body shape and weight,” explains Cortney S. Warren, PhD, a psychologist and an associate adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. “Their core motivation is ‘I don’t like the way I look. I’m going to do something about it, so I’m going to lose weight.’ Then they restrict, restrict, restrict until they binge, and then immediately afterward they feel extra guilty and the cycle begins again.”