Binge eating disorder (BED) is one of the most common eating disorders, yet it wasn’t included as an official diagnostic category until 2013, when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed. (DSM-5) was published. Prior to 2013, it was listed simply as a diagnosis needing further study — despite millions of Americans suffering from it. Binge eating is commonly defined as consuming a large amount of food in a short period of time, while experiencing a loss of control over eating.
What are some of the less commonly known quirks of binge eating disorder?
1. Both woman and men engage in binge eating.
Although people tend to associate eating disorders nearly-exclusively with women, men can also suffer from an eating disorder. This is especially true with binge eating, which is generally seen as less stigmatizing than anorexia and bulimia (and is experienced differently by men, see below). The prevalence rate of binge eating disorder in women is about 1.6 percent of the adult population, while it’s about half that for men — 0.8 percent. It is the least gender-skewed of the three most common eating disorders (DSM-5, 2013).
2. Food cravings are associated with binge eating.
While most people get food cravings from time to time — the intense desire to consume a specific kind of food that is very hard to resist. People with binge eating appear to be especially sensitive to such cravings. As Chao et al. (2016) noted, “Similar to previous suggestion that cravings for sweets are related to binging, we found that […] cravings for sweets and cravings for complex carbohydrates/ starches were independently associated with binge eating.” The more frequent the cravings, the more likely one may have binge eating disorder.
3. Stress or a negative mood may trigger binge eating.
Phillips et al. (2016) found that stress or a negative mood seemed to precede most women’s binge eating behavior. Stress such as a relationship conflict, school work or work projects, or finances seem to act as a trigger for binge eating in women. But boredom and negative emotions also play a role in women (more so than men) for triggering binge eating behavior.
4. Men experience binge eating differently than women.
Compared to women, men are more likely to report exercising or drug/alcohol use before an episode of binge eating (Phillips et al., 2016). Men also report more feelings about their bodily and physiological sensations — feeling empty or hungry before binging, and full after binging. After binge eating, men seem to report feeling more satisfied and less emotional distress than women too (Phillips et al., 2016).
5. Most women binge alone, secretly.
Researchers have also confirmed what most people (especially women) with binge eating disorder already know — they like to binge alone, secretly. Researchers found that most women who have binge eating disorder consider secrecy a component of the disorder (Phillips et al., 2016). Women also reported being alone more than men when having a binge eating episode.
6. Binge eating doesn’t discriminate by race.
Unlike other eating disorders, binge eating disorder doesn’t discriminate by race. Prevalence data in the United States suggests that it is as prevalent among different racial and ethnic minority groups as it is among white females. Anorexia and bulimia are far more common among white females than in other ethnic minority groups. Followup research from Chao et al (2016) confirm this finding.
7. People feel badly after binging, consider dieting.
If you thought binge eating will somehow improve a person’s mood, usually the opposite occurs. After a binge eating episode, most people feel very badly — worse, in fact, than they did before binging. Women also reported having a more negative body image after binging (Phillips et al., 2016). Many people who binge eat also subsequently consider going on a diet (compared to bulimia, where dieting usually precedes the bulimic episode).
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5th edition.
Chao, A.M., Grilo, C.M. & Sinha, R. (2016). Food cravings, binge eating, and eating disorder psychopathology: Exploring the moderating roles of gender and race. Eating Behaviors, 21.
Phillips, KE., Kelly-Weeder, S. & Farrell, K. (2016). Binge eating behavior in college students: What is a binge? Applied Nursing Research, 30.