“Could I have binge eating disorder?”

If you’re asking this question, chances are your life is being negatively affected by your eating behavior. You may be feeling frustrated, embarrassed, desperate or fed up with your relationship with food. It’s important that you understand this common eating disorder – and identify the impact it might be having on you.

Binge eating disorder affects between six and eight million Americans of all genders, more than all anorexia and bulimia cases combined. It is a serious and impairing disorder that has a profound impact on an individual’s quality of life. It most often impacts adults but binge eating episodes can start during adolescence. People of all body sizes and shapes struggle with binge eating disorder. That is probably why many individuals are able to hide their behaviors and struggles from their family and friends.

What is even more troubling is how many people with binge eating disorder chalk it up to a lack of willpower or strength to resist urges to eat. This belief downplays the seriousness of the condition and supports judgments that lead to low self-esteem, low self-worth and depression. Other individuals may mistake it for a case of food addiction or overeating, turning to programs like Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts Anonymous for help.

If you think you might have binge eating disorder, ask yourself these questions:

How often do you experience binge eating episodes? Binge eating episodes are defined by consuming large amounts of food combined with a lack of control over eating. This does not refer to having large holiday meals or ordering an appetizer, dinner and dessert when you go out. What constitutes a ‘large amount’ varies for different people. Individuals with binge eating disorder often report consuming whole boxes and bags of food, or twice as much as they normally eat in a similar setting. Experiencing these types of episodes at least once a week is cause for concern.

Do you ever lack the ability stop eating once you’ve started? Even when a binge eating episode starts with foods that people enjoy or comforting foods that bring relief, eventually a loss of control takes over. For some, the lack of control begins long before the eating begins, when they are on their way to the store to purchase food for the binge eating episode. Either way, once someone loses control, there is no choice over what food or how much food is eaten.

Do you eat until you feel physically sick? This loss of control often becomes so intense that people only stop binge eating when feelings of intense pain or nausea set in. The physical discomfort that arises from overeating is not nearly as intense.

Do you feel shameful or guilty after eating? Binge eating episodes are commonly followed by a judgment that you have done something bad (guilt) or that you are a bad person (shame). Many people also report increased depressed mood, including feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness or loneliness.

Do you often eat alone? People with binge eating disorder have a tendency to isolate, frequently avoiding social gatherings centered on meals. Binge eating behavior can be viewed as embarrassing, and one might fear to engage in this behavior around others. They may eat at home, in their car or at a restaurant away from people they know.

If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, it could potentially be a sign of binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder does not have to rule your life, your mood oryour sense of self.

The best course of action is seeking help from an eating disorder specialist. A psychotherapist, dietitian or physician can work with you on one of several different treatment options that have been shown to successfully control the urges to binge and reduce binge eating episodes.

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Dr. Kate Craigen is the clinical director of binge eating and bariatric support services. She is responsible for the clinical development and consistent implementation of binge eating disorder programming across Walden’s inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient levels. Additionally, Dr. Craigen collaborates with various bariatric providers and partners throughout New England, ensuring both pre- and post-bariatric surgery patients gain the proper behavioral skills to enhance long-term outcomes. Previously, she was a clinician in Walden’s partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs in Waltham. She also served as a postdoctoral fellow and clinical instructor at the Eating and Weight Disorders Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Craigen received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her professional interests include the role of supervision and training in the field of eating disorders and the role of gender in the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders.