National Eating Disorders Association

Binge eating disorder is a severe, life-threatening and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

BED is one of the newest eating disorders formally recognized in the DSM5. Before the most recent revision in 2013, BED was listed as a subtype of EDNOS (now referred to as OSFED). The change is important because some insurance companies will not cover eating disorder treatment without a DSM diagnosis. The formal diagnostic criteria are:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following: 
    • Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
    • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).
  • The binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following: 
    • Eating much more rapidly than normal.
    • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
    • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
    • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
    • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.
  • The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging) as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

Statistics

NEDA has gathered data on the prevalence of eating disorders from the US, UK, and Europe to get a better idea of exactly how common eating disorders are. Although BED is not a new disorder, its new formal recognition in the research community has left far more gaps in the data on the incidence and prevalence of BED than for anorexia and bulimia.

  • A 2007 study asked 9,282 English-speaking Americans about a variety of mental health conditions, including eating disorders. The results, published in Biological Psychiatry, found that 3.5% of women and 2.0% of men had binge eating disorder during their life
    • This makes BED more than three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.
    • BED is also more common than breast cancer, HIV, and schizophrenia.
  • When researchers followed a group of 496 adolescent girls for 8 years until they were 20, they found: 
    • 5.2% of the girls met criteria for DSM5 anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. 
    • When the researchers included nonspecific eating disorder symptoms, a total of 13.2% of the girls had suffered from a DSM-5 eating disorder by age 20.
  • Combining information from several sources, Eric Stice and Cara Bohon found that
    • Between 0.2% and 3.5% of females and 0.9% and 2.0% of males will develop binge eating disorder
    • Subthreshold binge eating disorder occurs in 1.6% of adolescent females
  • Research estimates that
    • 28.4% of people with current BED are receiving treatment for their disorder
    • 43.6% of people with BED at some point in their lives will receive treatment
  • BED often begins in the late teens or early 20s, although it has been reported in both young children and older adults.
  • Approximately 40% of those with binge eating disorder are male.
  • Three out of ten individuals looking for weight loss treatments show signs of BED.

References:

Hudson JI, Hiripi E, Pope HG Jr, and Kessler RC. (2007). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3):348-58. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.03.040.

Stice E & Bohon C. (2012). Eating Disorders. In Child and Adolescent Psychopathology, 2nd Edition, Theodore Beauchaine & Stephen Linshaw, eds. New York: Wiley. 

Stice E, Marti CN, Shaw H, and Jaconis M. (2010). An 8-year longitudinal study of the natural history of threshold, subthreshold, and partial eating disorders from a community sample of adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118(3):587-97. doi: 10.1037/a0016481. 

Westerberg, D. P., & Waitz, M. (2013). Binge-eating disorder. Osteopathic Family Physician, 5(6), 230-233.