What is the Most Common Eating Disorder?

Sunflower in the Woods

Recent statistics show that binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder [1]. Binge eating disorder (BED) is more complex than just overeating from time to time. While overeating is certainly part of this disorder, there’s more that goes into it. If it’s left untreated, it can even be life threatening.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating. A binge is when someone eats a large amount of food in a short amount of time. The amount is so large that most people wouldn’t be able to or wouldn’t eat the same amount in the same amount of time.

For someone to be diagnosed with BED, binge episodes must happen at least once a week for three months. There must be at least three of the following symptoms for something to be considered a binge:

  • Feeling unable to control or stop binging
  • Feeling disgusted, sad, or guilty after binging
  • Creating food rituals or changing plans in order to binge
  • Eating even if you’re full or not hungry
  • Eating alone or in secret due to feeling embarrassed about the amount of food
  • Rapid eating [2,3]

While people with other eating disorders can struggle with binge eating, someone with BED doesn’t meet criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders.

Facts & Stats

Here are some important statistics about binge eating disorder:

  • BED impacts 3.5% of women and 2% of men
  • Binge eating disorder is more likely to occur in early adulthood for women
  • Men are more likely to struggle with BED in midlife
  • Approximately 66% of people with BED are obese
  • People with BED are more likely to have anxiety and depression [1]

Warning Signs & Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorders

There are some behavioral and physical warning signs of BED. These are:

  • Evidence of binge eating, such as large amounts of food missing or finding empty wrappers
  • New dietary habits, especially interest in fad diets
  • Hoarding food
  • Withdrawing from friends or family
  • Extreme concern with body shape or size
  • Constantly looking in the mirror or doing other things to check the size of their body
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Stomach cramps
  • Gastrointestinal problems, like constipation or diarrhea [3]

Treatment Options

Treatment Team

There are treatment options available for people struggling with BED. Treatment for binge eating typically includes support from a multidisciplinary team. The different professionals that are involved in treating BED are:

  • Doctor—a medical doctor can oversee the medical aspects of the eating disorder. Binge eating can negatively impact someone’s health in big ways. A doctor may periodically run labs or tests to check up on how someone’s body is recovering. A doctor may also prescribe medication, such as SSRI’s, to help reduce disordered eating behavior.
  • Registered dietitian— An eating disorder-informed registered dietitian (RD) can significantly help with the recovery process. A dietitian’s role is to help someone develop healthy beliefs about food and health food habits.
  • Mental Health Professional- A mental health clinician (aka a therapist) helps treat the emotional and psychological aspect of an eating disorder. An eating disorder-informed therapist may also help someone deal with other mental health conditions (such as anxiety or depression) that are feeding into the disordered behavior.

Sunset shining through tree

Therapeutic Approaches for Binge Eating

There are certain therapy approaches that are shown to help reduce binge eating behaviors. One of these methods is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT therapists believe that if someone changes the way they think, then they can change the way they act.

Another therapeutic approach that is used to treat BED is interpersonal therapy (IPT). IPT works by helping someone improve the way they handle their relationships. IPT therapists believe that someone may be binging as a response to stressors in their relationships. By changing the way someone interacts with others or improving their relationships, the urge to binge might lessen or go away.

There’s a wide variety of treatment options and therapeutic techniques that a therapist may use to help someone recover from binge eating. If you or a loved one are looking for help, it’s important to ask any provider about their experience and treatment philosophy.

Resources:

[1] Marx, R. (2013). New in the DSM-5: Binge Eating Disorder. National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved September 9th, 2021 from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/new-dsm-5-binge-eating-disorder

[2] National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d). Eating Disorders. Retrieved September 9th, 2021 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders#part_2269

[3] National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d). Warning Signs and Symptoms. Retrieved September 9th, 2021 from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/warning-signs-and-symptoms


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published October 18, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on October 18, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Samantha Bothwell, LMFT

Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.