Binge eating disorder (BED) is currently the most common eating disorder in the United States. It affects both men and women, and individuals across all ages, income levels, and races.
BED is characterized by regular bouts of overeating, or eating to an extreme. People with BED feel that they lack control over their bingeing. No one knows exactly what causes BED, but there are several risk factors that are common in binge eating disorder.
Common Risk Factors
While researchers are still searching for the cause of BED, a lot of researchers believe that brain chemistry is involved in the disorder. Brain chemistry can interfere with the way you regulate your food cravings. It can also determine how much you enjoy eating certain foods.
People with BED come in all shapes and sizes. You can be overweight, obese, or even of a healthy weight and still have the condition. A history of significant weight changes, however, or a fascination or obsession with dieting, could be a risk factor for BED. According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association, 30 to 40 percent of people looking into weight loss treatments could exhibit symptoms of BED or a similar condition.
Genetics and family history are two other common risk factors. These may include:
- sexual or physical trauma in the home
- emotional abuse and neglect
- other negative situations involving loss or trauma with someone’s family or in their childhood
- growing up with family members who exhibit disordered and unhealthy eating habits
- family history of depression or mood disorders
Poor body image and low self-esteem are also risk factors. Weight-related bullying might also be a risk factor.
Adolescence and young adulthood seem to be a more common time for the onset of binge eating disorder. This could be because of the struggles with self-esteem and body image that many teenagers cope with during this time.
What You Can Do
You can’t change your genes, but there are some actions you can take to combat certain risk factors. There are also steps you can take to help prevent binge eating disorder from affecting people you love.
1. Work to maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Eat regular meals each day. You should aim for three meals and two snacks on most days. This will keep your body from getting overly hungry, which may help you avoid bingeing. Also, remove the idea of “good” or “bad” foods from your diet. This can lead to feelings of guilt over food choices, which can make bingeing worse.
2. Find ways to promote a healthy body image.
Having a healthy body image and improving your self-esteem can help, says Beth Brandenburg, M.D., associate medical director for the Center for the Treatment of Eating Disorders at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Get involved in sports, or stay active through another activity you find enjoyable. This can help shift your focus away from “how you look” and instead highlight all of the great things your body can do and accomplish.
3. Just say no to diets.
Most diets call for calorie restriction. Some of these restrictions are extreme. Restriction is a risk factor for BED. Don’t deprive your body of the nutrients it needs, says James M. Greenblatt, M.D., chief medical officer and vice president of medical services at Walden Behavioral Care in Waltham, Massachusetts. “As food deprivation creates multiple psychological and physiological disturbances, try not to go for more than about three hours without a meal or snack,” he says. “As your eating schedule normalizes, the body’s signals of hunger and satiety should normalize as well.”
In simple terms, over-restricting food, especially over long periods of time, can wreak havoc with your appetite.
Healthy, regular meals that encompass a variety of whole foods and healthy fats ensure that your body will get an array of nutrients. If you’re not sure where to start, a registered dietitian can provide guidance.
When to Seek Help
If you think you may be suffering from binge eating disorder, first ask yourself how you feel when overeating. Is it something you feel you can’t control? If so, and you’ve been experiencing at least one episode a week, for at least the last three months, it’s time to seek help.
Stepping out of the silence isn’t easy, but the earlier you recognize a problem, the faster you can get appropriate treatment. A multidisciplinary treatment team can assess all aspects that may be affecting your eating habits and get you started on the track back to normalcy and peace with the food you eat, and your body as a whole.