“Bingeing” means to indulge in an activity to the point of excess. You may have heard this term used lightly in conversation such as when someone says their weekend consisted of binge-watching the latest Netflix show, or when someone jokes that they binged an entire pizza the night before. However, bingeing takes on a more serious meaning in the clinical setting because it’s used to describe a life-threatening eating disorder called binge eating disorder (BED).
Binge eating disorder isn’t a joke, and it’s commonly misunderstood because most people don’t know what a true bingeing episode entails. Occasionally ordering and enjoying an entire pizza to yourself wouldn’t be considered a binge and contrary to watching television, binge-eating isn’t a voluntary act – you can’t just switch it on and off.
BED is characterized by episodes of uncontrollably eating abnormally large quantities of food, quickly and often to the point of discomfort. This means someone with BED might eat multiple pizzas in one sitting without even realizing how much they’re consuming until they’re in physical pain. These episodes are swiftly followed by feelings of embarrassment, distress or guilt and despite these feelings, the urge to binge eat will reoccur and the cycle will continue. In contrast to other eating disorders, compensatory behaviors like purging aren’t typically observed in people with BED.
Binge eating disorder can affect anyone, even the most disciplined individuals such as professional athletes. Tennis champion Monica Seles is just one public figure that has been open about her struggle with BED in many interviews, and she also wrote an article providing insight into her triggers, symptoms, and treatment. She states, “When I learned that binge eating disorder is a real medical disorder, it was a huge relief to me. It helped me to finally understand that it wasn’t about a lack of willpower, a quality I knew I had, particularly given my many successes on the court.” This is important to understand so BED is taken seriously and people who are suffering can get the appropriate medical treatment that they need.
Formally recognized as an eating disorder in 2013, BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States. Before then, BED was listed as a subtype of another clinical eating category called Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED). In order for eating disorder treatment to be covered by insurance, it needs to have a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). DSM contains criteria for diagnosing mental illness, including eating disorders. Adding BED to the DSM allowed for people to get their treatment covered by insurance; however, some people still find it difficult to get their treatment covered for BED. This is because some insurance companies want physical evidence of a medical problem before they provide compensation, and individuals with BED may not show any short-term physical health effects.
In addition, many medical providers are still inexperienced when it comes to dealing with BED, which means it can often be misdiagnosed or mistreated. To get the best treatment, find a healthcare clinic that’s knowledgeable about your insurance coverage and is familiar with BED. As exposure and education continues, treatment options will expand and those suffering with binge eating disorder will get the help they deserve.
If you or someone you know is displaying signs of having an eating disorder, you can go to https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org and chat with their Helpline.
If you would like to inquire about virtual nutrition counseling for eating disorders, please check out our First Bite Nutrition page.