How to spot the signs of binge eating disorder (BED)

By Marilena Andreou – October 2021

Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Binge eating disorder is characterised by frequent and episodes of eating large quantities (to the point of discomfort) of food in a short space of time (without feeling in control). This is not usually followed by getting rid of the food through vomiting. The ‘binge’ can be planned or spontaneous. Commonly the binge eating episode is carried out in secret and the evidence (wrappers) is removed. It is one of the newer disorders that is now recognised by the DSM-5.

It is a common misconception that the person chooses to binge and that they are just overindulging, but actually this is not the case and it can be very distressing for the person. Both men and woman can be affected by binge eating disorder and the onset is most common in early teens (although it can start a lot earlier).

People can have feelings of guilt, shame or disgust due to their lack of control both during and after an episode of binge eating. This then reinforces the cycle of negative thoughts, emotions and further binge eating behaviours. There are many things that can trigger on the binge eat, for example; boredom, anxiety, depression and anger. Therefore for some people, binge eating behaviours become a way of coping with overwhelming emotions.

Warning signs and symptoms of Binge eating disorder:

- Eating large quantities of food in a small amount of time (with a loss of control)

- Eating when not hungry

- Frequent mirror checking for perceived flaws in appearance

- Frequent dieting

- Fear of eating with others or in public

- Fluctuations in weight

- Low self-esteem

- Feeling depressed, or disgust during or after a binge eating episode

- Frequent dieting

- Hoards food in unusual places

- Often worries about weight and body shape

Evidence suggests that binge eating disorder can have many long term implications and increases the likelihood of developing the following; type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, heart disease and sleep apnoea.

Tips to help you to overcome Binge eating disorder:

- Monitor eating habits and mood in a food diary to help you to notice triggers and common patterns

- Refrain from strict dieting

- Avoid skipping meals; skipping meals can lead to food cravings later on in the day

- Remain hydrated; drink plenty of water throughout the day

- Eat more fiber; some studies suggest that the higher the fiber intake, this reduces cravings and suppresses appetite leading to less overall food intake

- Increase your protein; eating more protein can help you to feel fuller for longer

- Plan your meals; get organised and plan your meals and try to maintain this routine

- Exercise; plan regular exercise into your routine, this could be a simple as going for walks, going the gym or doing fitness classes.

- Clear out the ‘junk’ in your home; replace with more nutritional foods including fruits, vegetables and nuts.

If you think that you may have binge eating disorder and it is having a detrimental effect on your life or you know someone that may be affected, then speak to a professional. You can speak to your GP and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for binge eating disorder. It can help by learning how to monitor patterns, to adapt negative thoughts and break the binge eating cycle.