Is Bingeing an Eating Disorder?

- POSTED ON: Aug 04, 2011

  The dictionary definition of bingeing is:

to be immoderately self-indulgent and unrestrained;
to engage in excessive or uncontrolled indulgence in food or drink.

I personally agree that Bingeing isn’t usually because of lack of self control and weakness.
We binge because of a complex interaction of habit, brain chemistry, and external cues that signal us to eat. This interaction can be overcome, but it's harder to do and takes longer to change than most of us realize.

In the 1960s the Health Profession began attributing psychological reasons, rather than physiological reasons to people who overeat to the point of obesity. Since that time, there has been a tendency on the part of Health Professionals to classify every kind of eating outside “moderate eating” as an “eating disorder”. There are many reasons for this…and one of them is financial motivation. Unless a behavior is labeled a “disorder” or and illness, health insurance won’t pay for treatment.

You may call me cynical, but since “Binge Eating Disorder” is far more common than anexoria and bulimia. It has a much larger population base. This means more patients to treat with Therapy, and/or Eating Disorder programs, and more money and more profit for that specific Health Industry field.

Binge eating disorder first appeared in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, in 1994. Until recent times, “Binge Eating Disorder” has been categorized under the umbrella term 'eating disorders not otherwise specified”, or EDNOS for short. EDNOS includes a wide variety of disordered eating patterns.
It's often used for people who meet many of the symptoms of anorexia or bulimia but not all. For example, a woman who meets all of the symptoms for anorexia,  but still menstruates regularly -- a criteria for an anorexia diagnosis -- would be diagnosed with an eating disorder not otherwise specified.

Health professionals admit that a Binge Eating Disorder is more than simply eating too much food, and that many obese patients don't have it. However still they claim that up to 5 percent of obese patients and 30 percent of patients participating in weight loss programs meet the criteria for binge eating disorder.

"It is important that clinicians and the public be aware that there are
substantial differences between an eating disorder such as
binge eating disorder and the common phenomenon of overeating,"
says B. Timothy Walsh, chair of the DSM-V Eating Disorders Work Group,
in a press release. "While overeating is a challenge for many Americans, 
recurrent binge eating is much less common and far more severe and
is associated with significant physical and psychological problems."

Proposed changes in the upcoming DSM-V, to be released in May 2013, would categorize BED as a specific eating disorder.
The proposed criteria require that episodes of binge eating, defined as:

“the consumption of unusually large amounts of food,
accompanied by a sense of loss of control
and strong feelings of embarrassment and guilt”

occur a minimum of once a week over the last three months for a diagnosis.

Such a diagnosis would fit almost every obese person that I’ve even known.….I’ve been one myself and I’ve known many, many others… Almost every obese person…and some of those who are not obese… experiences a sense that they have lost control of their behavior, and has strong feelings of embarrassment and guilt after eating an “unusually large amount of food”.

Weekends come every week, vacations and holidays come rather frequently, other celebrations and special events happen frequently as well.  Plus, most of us experience times of sadness, anxiety, or crisis more frequently than we like. It is common for an obese person to engage in excess overeating on these occasions. In fact it is also a very common occurrence for an obese person to “binge out” at least once a week for months at a time.

The disgust and aversion that modern Society has for fat people pretty much guarantees that fat people will feel embarrassment and guilt due to their failure to keep from engaging in behavior that contributes to their fat condition.

It is my opinion that, despite the “conditions” that psychologists attach to the “Binge Eating Disorder”, by their proposed definition, almost everyone who engages in excessive or uncontrolled indulgence in food, which is the dictionary definition of Bingeing, could easily fall into thecurrent medical classification of having an “eating disorder”.

I find something really wrong with this reasoning, and it is one of the reasons I was drawn to Gary Taubes’
research and theories about obesity having a physiological cause, with the psychological problems being a RESULT of the condition, not a CAUSE of the condition.

Taubes makes a compelling argument. My own experience and my observation of the dismal long-term success rate
of “eating disorder” treatments, especially those that include the use of “Intuitive Eating” as a tool of recovery tend to support my belief that while Therapy is helpful to gain self-understanding of one’s behaviors, and can help one learn alternative behaviors, the underlying conditions causing obesity are not cured through that process.

So…my position is that, for those who are obese, bingeing is normal, and not abnormal, eating behavior.

Society’s current label of “eating disorder” and suggested “treatment” is simply another attempt to shame fat people into believing that they need not starve themselves to become thin and stay thin. This is a misplaced effort, because an obese body wants to maintain itself, and this is a survival instinct that will never leave, no matter how thin one becomes, or how much therapy one has.


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Existing Comments:

On Oct 12, 2011 wrote:
I was clinically obese for only a few years and not what most people think of as obese, though definitely not considered attractive. However, I think of myself as someone who often ate too many sweets or ate too often, usually just because the food was there ever since I was a pre-teen. I guess I didn't think of myself as a binger becasue when I first heard the term it was referring to people who ate several thousand calories at a sitting. I spread mine out. But as time went on, I decided there was something qualitatively wrong with my overeating, in additon to the fact that it had increased considerably over the years. I rarely ate a lot at a meal, even if I had something like a hamburger and fries. I ate after lunch and into the evening, and it was nothing like meals. I would buy a cake and eat all the frosting off. Or I would eat a bag of Hershey's kisses, but spread out over 6 or 7 hours. I've eaten a lot of cookie and brownie dough in my life. And half gallons of ice cream. Then puncuated with all two cups of a box of instant puddding, and various other foods. And I definitely ate too many calories. So I don't understand Taubs' claim that being overweight or obese is not from overeating, as if women who eat 3,000 calories a day of meat and veggies won't get fat. He's probably not saying that, but I've heard him interviewed and he sounds like he is saying something similar. I agree that it is significant that the majority of people who overeat do it on foods similar to what I'm talking about, but I also know some people just eat very large meals and snacks, but not a bowl of brownie dough. In any case, though I'm not completely cured, I think of myself as much less tortured by this whole issue and I've done it still eating some processed carbs, though much less than before and less than the average bear. I imagine that many obese or morbidly obese people may be more sensitive than I am and may be triggered more powerfully than I am. What I didn't understand was your saying Society’s current label of “eating disorder” and suggested “treatment” is simply another attempt to shame fat people into believing that they need not starve themselves to become thin and stay thin. Shame them into NOT believing they have to starve themselves? Actually, it does seem that the formerly obese have to eat a pretty low calorie diet consistently to stay sometimes even at a moderate weight. I just can't see myself living like that, not that I was ever obese. I already eat quite good meals on most days; even if I was to eat like that consistently, I don't think I'd become really thin, and certainly not as thin as you. I enjoy feeling that I don't have to watch every bite. But I could fool myself.

On Oct 12, 2011 wrote:
Oh, I meant to add that there are some slim people who exhibit some binge eating at least some of the time. Some of them don't really worry about it; maybe it's the worry and anxiety in the face of continuing the behavior that make it a disorder. I've had some teenage boy students tell me about some incredible eating frenzies, but they don't freak about it and can just as easily forget to eat. I think it's the preoccupation that makes the disorder.

On Oct 12, 2011 Dr. Collins wrote:
             oolala, Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and the sharing of your own experience. Regarding Taubes' theory, I don't think you quite get what he is saying about cause and effect. You might want to check out my summaries of his book on BOOKTALK,

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