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When is Overeating Actually Binge Eating Disorder?

By Michelle May, M.D.

It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and I want to focus on the most common eating disorder, Binge Eating Disorder (BED). An estimated 3.5% of women and 2% of men in the U.S. have binge eating disorder. The incidence is considerably higher among individuals seeking weight loss, but restrictive dieting and weight stigma tend to propel the Binge Eating Cycle* and compound the problem.

Paper cups for chocolate candyWhat is a binge?

Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Eating until you feel uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating alone because you are embarrassed by how much you’re eating
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) was added to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in May 2013. [1] Here is a summary of the full diagnostic criteria for BED:

BED can be diagnosed when binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for three months. The episodes are characterized by both eating in an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar discrete period of time period of time under similar circumstances. There is also a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode. There is marked distress about binge eating and there is no recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior (for example, purging).

What does BED feel like?

Am I Hungry? Marketplace ItemsKari Anderson, a Phoenix-based eating disorder specialist, co-author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and the co-creator of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Program, explains that a person with BED may eat “normally” with others, stop on the way home to buy “binge” foods, then binge and hide evidence of the episode. The aftermath of a binge episode involves extreme feelings of shame and disgust.

Kari adds, “Individuals with BED are typically competent and accomplished in other areas of their life, yet feel unable to stop this secret behavior. Bingeing is a way to escape or disconnect from feelings that seem intolerable. There may be difficulty managing states of emotional and physical distress without using food. On the other hand, the thought of giving up the behavior evokes anxiety.” People with binge eating disorder may suffer for years, trying numerous diets, feeling alone, ashamed, and depressed. You are not alone; there are millions of people with BED.

While most people can relate to overeating or even bingeing from time to time, the lives of those with binge eating disorder are significantly disrupted by the binges and the aftermath. They may suffer in silence for years – trying and failing numerous diets, feeling alone, ashamed, and depressed. But they are not alone; there are millions of people with BED.

How is BED treated?

BEDA logoIf you think you may have binge eating disorder, seek treatment from an experienced treatment specialist. A great resource about BED for individuals and health care professionals is the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA).

Mindfulness based strategies aimed at self-regulating emotional and physical states have shown promise in the treatment of Binge Eating Disorder. Mindful eating strategies such as those described in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating are an important complement to therapy.

The comprehensive Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating for Binge Eating (AIH ME-BE) Program is a clinically valid treatment that has been shown to stop binge eating. AIH ME-BE combines interactive, eye-opening workshops and small group therapy sessions led by a trained Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Program or Therapist.

With effective treatment, there is hope for recovery and the freedom to live the vibrant life you crave.

1 American Psychiatric Association. (2013). DSM 5. American Psychiatric Association.



About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

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