Do I Just Love to Eat, or Do I Have a Binge Eating Disorder?

By Dr. Lesley Williams, MD, CEDS – CEO & Co-Founder of Liberation Center

As an Eating Disorder Specialist, I am frequently asked, “Do I just love to eat, or do I have a Binge Eating Disorder (BED)?” When assessing patients during the intake process, it’s not uncommon for me to hear, “My only disorder is that I love to eat.” Many assume that Anorexia and Bulimia are the only eating disorders that require treatment, completely unaware to the fact that BED is actually the most common eating disorder, yet remains the least talked about and recognized.

Food has always been my friend. I have been known to numb the pain of heartbreak with ice cream and cope with life stressors with french fries and wine. Like most people, emotional food indulgences bring me joy and comfort. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between overeating and a true Binge Eating Disorder.

Individuals suffering with Binge Eating Disorder cannot enjoy the occasional dessert after dinner or stop at one helping during the holidays. BED is a distinct neurobiological disorder that has been described to me by my patients as a constant pervasive preoccupation with food. The DSM 5 book of psychiatric diagnoses defines BED 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. Someone with binge eating disorder may eat too quickly, even when he or she is not hungry. The person may have feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or disgust and may binge eat alone to hide the behavior. This disorder is associated with marked distress and occurs, on average, at least once a week over three months. 

My patients that suffer with BED state that they think about food constantly and often eat beyond feeling full, even when they aren’t hungry. I treat women and men of varying weights and sizes, and this pattern is not exclusive to individuals in larger bodies. BED is not a disorder you can diagnose by just looking at someone. From my experience, those afflicted find their preoccupation with food and eating habits to have a significant impact on their ability to focus on daily tasks. However, many suffer in silence because they are afraid, embarrassed or hold the belief that change is merely a matter of “willpower” and they need to just “get over it.” Often, even those who are motivated to break free from the cycle of bingeing don’t know where to seek help. 

 The encouraging news is that BED is gaining recognition and support. Strong advocacy groups like the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) are speaking out about the prevalence and dangers of this illness and demanding that those who suffer are treated with dignity and respect. When I began my career as an Eating Disorder Specialist, my goal was to treat the binge eating disorder problem that I saw frequently in my community. Now, after more than 10 years, BED is finally being recognized and health insurance companies are seeing the value in treating it early. If you or someone you know is struggling, take the first step, set up an assessment and learn about the variety of treatment options available.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Liberation Center’s Binge Eating Disorder blog series!