What is Binge Eating Disorder?

In binge eating, Eating, impulsive overeating, Self-control, Temptation by Yuliya Richard

As a clinical psychologist, people often ask me “so, what is Binge Eating Disorder?” It’s a term we often hear in the media but there’s quite a bit of confusion around what it really means. The word ‘binge’ has become a part of our daily lexicon. We binge-watch Netflix or binge on ice-cream, not really understanding the true meaning of the word.

It’s not just the misuse of the word that causes confusion – it’s the overuse too. By using it repeatedly for everyday situations, we almost normalize the excess and out of control consumption of food. And because we use the term so often, it’s lost its true meaning. So people are no longer sure what constitutes true binging. What is Binge Eating Disorder and what is just overeating?

If this is something you’re worried about, then you’re not alone. Many people are keen to understand what counts as binge eating. They look for definitions to work out if their ‘binge’ eating is considered compulsive. They see it happening more frequently and wonder if they’re out of control. So, I decided to clarify exactly what is Binge Eating Disorder and what is not, so you can understand the signs for yourself.

What Is Binge Eating Disorder – A Definition

It’s important to realise that if binge eating occurs within a specific timeframe, frequently enough, and is associated with distress, then it may meet the criteria of a Binge Eating Disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th Edition) characterises Binge Eating Disorder based on five distinct criteria. Let’s look at each of them in more detail…

Criterion #1

The amount of food consumed within a period of time is more than most people would eat in the same time period. This occurs within a limited period of time, therefore, if an individual snacks or grazes all day long then it would not be considered a binge eating episode. The amount of food involved would be considered excessive if it’s more than a typical meal. This is often associated with lack of control, the inability to stop eating, or not being able to control the amount of food. Some individuals may no longer try to control their eating habits and binge eating episodes might be planned.

Criterion #2

This criterion relates to the way in which food is eaten and feelings immediately afterwards. Binge eating is associated with at least three of the following;

  1. Eating more rapidly than usual
  2. Eating until uncomfortably full
  3. Eating large amounts of food when not physically full
  4. Eating along because of being embarrassed of how much one is eating
  5. Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or very guilty afterwards

So, if three or more of these aspects are present, then criteria two is fulfilled. However, if only one or two aspects are present, then the criterion has not been fulfilled.

Criterion #3

This criterion relates specifically to emotions that accompany episodes. Binge eating is characterized by a marked distress. Individuals might feel depressed, disgust, shame, guilt, or similar negative emotions.

Criterion #4

This criterion relates to the frequency of episodes. Binge eating is considered to take place if it happens at least once a week for at least three months. The mild range includes 1-3 episodes per week, moderate range includes 4-7 times per week, and severe range includes 8-13 episodes. If there are 14 or more episodes in a week then the case is considered extreme.

Criterion #5

This criterion relates to behavior that is NOT considered binge eating disorder. It’s not associated with recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior to make up for or reverse the effects of the episode (unlike bulimia where binging is followed by purging or the use of laxatives).

The main trigger with binge eating disorder is negative effect. Other triggers can include dietary restraint, negative feelings related to body weight, body shape, food, and boredom. Negative self-evaluation and dysphoria are often the delayed consequences.

What Is Binge Eating Disorder – Summary

Based on these five criteria, it’s much easier to identify what is Binge Eating Disorder and what is simply overeating. If you recognise the signs and think you or someone you know may be suffering from the condition, then the next step is to seek medical help. If you’d like additional support along the way, then our online course will teach you practical strategies for addressing and dealing with overeating. Learn more about it here.