Binge Eating Disorder

Just about everyone overeats on occasion, taking a second or third helping at a potluck or an all-you-can-eat restaurant, or eating too much Thanksgiving turkey and pie and then feeling overly full afterwards. But some people have a problem with regular overeating – as many as two or more times per week – followed by an intense sense of shame and guilt. They may vow to stop this behavior, eating normally or even dieting for a period of time. But eventually the urge to overeat overwhelms them and it happens again. People who go through these cycles of overeating are thought to have a disorder called binge-eating disorder.

Binge-eating disorder is very common; in fact it is the most common of all eating disorders. It’s thought to affect as many as 3.5 percent of all women and 2 percent of all men at some time in their lives. But even though it’s a widespread condition, it is not listed as an official psychiatric diagnosis in the current American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This is the manual that mental health professionals use to diagnose mental health conditions and is also used by insurance companies for reimbursement purposes. But this condition may be added as a specific condition in the next edition of the DSM; in fact, criteria have already been proposed for binge-eating disorder.

Proposed DSM diagnostic criteria for binge-eating disorder include:

A person’s report of feeling out of control while eating along with at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food, even when not physically hungry
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment at the quantity of food being eaten
  • Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt with overeating.

These behaviors must occur 2 times per week over the course of 6 months with no compensatory behaviors (purging, laxatives or other inappropriate means to compensate for overeating).

As researchers learn more about binge eating, these criteria may expand or change.