Contributor: Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope
Binge eating is a symptom presenting and serving similar purposes in both bulimia and binge-eating disorder, or BED, but binge eating alone doesn’t define either eating disorder. By definition, binge-eating is simply a brief period or bout of excessive eating.
In other words, it’s something most of us have done on Thanksgiving or with the extra one or two or three slices of pizza — simply because it tasted or felt good.
Binge eating, however, expresses an eating disorder, most often bulimia and BED, when it occurs alongside other symptoms.
For example, the bible of diagnosable mental-health disorders, the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, says diagnosable bulimia nervosa must include these characteristics:
- A sense of lack of control over eating during an episode of “eating significantly more food in a short time than most people would in eat in a similar situation.”
- Binge eating at least once a week for 3 months straight.
- Regular compensatory behaviors to negate the binge, such as throwing up, fasting, excessive exercise, and the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications.
- Binge-purge event at least once a week for 3 months.
- Weight and physical appearance having undue influence on how one feels about himself or herself.
The DSM-5 just two years ago formally named BED a diagnosable eating disorder that included these qualities:
- Recurrent and persistent episodes of binge eating, with marked distress, occurring on average at least once a week over 3 months.
- Binge eating with one or more of the following feelings:
- eating too quickly
- eating large amounts of food even when not hungry
- feeling guilty, depressed, and/or disgusted with oneself for eating the food.
- No purging or other compensatory behaviors after the binge.
The Hallmark of Both Bulimia and BED
Binge eating is the hallmark of both bulimia and BED, and people with both illnesses tend to binge when they’re feeling badly. Still, some research shows those with bulimia, who purge after a binge, have greater and more rapidly improved moods than those with BED. 
Though the degrees may vary, people with bulimia and BED binge eat to alleviate negative emotions and feel some relief when they do; however, this is short-lived. Feelings of depression return, bingeing again mollifies them, and so begins the heinous cycle of binge eating.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
What is your experience with Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia? What advice do you have for someone newly into their recovery from both of these disorders?
About the Author:
Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.
- Munsch, S., Meyer, A., Quartier, V., Wilhelm, F. (2012). Binge eating in binge eating disorder: A breakdown of emotion regulatory process? Psychiatry Research, 195(3), 118-124.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 28th, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com