Binge eating disorder (BED) is a disorder characterized by recurrent bouts of severe overeating, most often accompanied with the feeling that one has no control over the situation. Binge eating is different from bulimia nervosa in that BED doesn’t involve purging the food afterward. Most people with BED are overweight or obese, although some are of normal weight.

Although most people overeat at times, BED involves recurrent unwanted episodes of extreme overeating in which the person feels unable to control the behavior. The episodes involve eating extreme amounts of food which leave the sufferer far beyond the point of feeling full. The individual often sets a time limit to allow for binge eating — two hours, for example — after which the person stops eating and often feels disgusted, depressed and ashamed. Many binge eaters diet or try to eat normally between binges but find that they are unable to stop on their own.

Research has shown that people with BED are more likely to have suffered from physical or sexual abuse, high levels of stress and body criticism. Genetics and biological predisposition appear to play a role as well. Many people with BED also suffer from other conditions such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder, body dysmorphic disorder or substance abuse.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has the highest success rates for sufferers of BED with approximately half achieving complete remission after therapy. CBT addresses not only the weight issues but also the psychiatric disorders and self-image issues that are nearly always present in people with BED. Because of this, CBT is far more effective than weight loss programs or medication.

Example: While cleaning, Carrie’s mother discovered twenty candy bar wrappers under her bed. Last week she had found two empty ice cream gallons discreetly wrapped up and placed in the outside garbage can. She suspected Carrie might have a binge eating disorder and planned to bring up the subject gently that evening.