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Am I Overeating or Do I Have a Binge Eating Disorder

Article Contributed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC and Crystal Karges, MS, RDN of Eating Disorder Hope.

Overeating can be a normal tendency for many individuals, such as having an extra helping at a meal even when already full or eating beyond satiety at a special holiday meal or celebratory occasion.  But, where is the line drawn between overeating and Binge Eating?  It is important to make a distinction between overeating and binge eating, as Binge Eating Disorder is in fact a separate entity and diagnosable eating disorder, not just an occasional happening or symptom.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Binge Eating Disorder is defined as recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control.  Further, men and women who struggle with binge eating typically experience feelings of disgust, guilt, or embarrassment and binge eat in isolation to conceal the behavior [1].  While overeating may occur periodically in a person without this disorder, an individual with Binge Eating Disorder has recurrent episodes of bingeing without purging, often leading to both emotional and physical distress.

What criteria are used for the diagnosis of Binge Eating Disorder? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), using the follow to diagnose binge eating disorder, separating it from other eating disorders [2]:

  • Marked distress over bingeing episodes
  • Loss of control over amount of eating
  • Episodes that occur at least 1x per week for 3 months

In addition, three or more of the following symptoms must also occur for BED diagnosis:

  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating more rapidly than normal (i.e. two hour period)
  • Feeling depressed, guilty, or disgusted with oneself after overeating
  • Eating alone because of embarrassment associated with how much one is eating
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry

Binge eating is actually more common than Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa, with data revealing that about 5 million women and 3 million men in the United States struggle with this disorder [3].  Though this eating disorder is prevalent in our country, it can easily go undetected from loved ones and even health professionals if the right questions are not asked.

Binge eating disorder may also go unnoticed and untreated often because of the confusion about the disorder or the shame/embarrassment that someone struggling with this disorder may feel.  Binge eating disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can be successfully treated if appropriate help is sought.  Millions of Americans are suffering with this eating disorder across the country, and understanding the criteria that sets this disorder apart from overeating and obesity can help raise greater awareness of the severity of binge eating.

If you are unsure if you or a loved one might meet the criteria for Binge Eating Disorder, seek the necessary help you may need to determine this.  Finding an eating disorder specialist can be an invaluable part of this process, as they can appropriately assess symptoms that may be experienced to make a diagnosis.  Early detection can be an instrumental in the recovery and treatment for any individual who might be struggling with binge eating disorder.


[1]: American Psychiatric Association–psychiatry
[2]:  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5)
[3]:  National Institute of Mental Health.  “Eating Disorders Among Adults – Binge Eating Disorders”.


Page Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
March 12, 2014
Published on, Resources for Treatment of Eating Disorders

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