The Eating Disorder Many Women Don’t Know They Have

People with this disorder come in all shapes and sizes.

— -- Binging on food has become an acceptable cliché these days—think gorging on Ben & Jerry’s after a breakup. Few of us equate bouts of overeating with anorexia or bulimia. But just like them, binge eating can be an eating disorder, and it’s going to be on more people’s radars in upcoming months. An awareness campaign kicked off this week, with tennis great Monica Seles leading the way. As she revealed at an event, “Binge eating disorder was as tough as any moment on the tennis court.”

Listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is estimated to affect 2.8 million women and men. BED is different from bulimia, which is characterized by a cycle of eating large amounts of food and purging to get rid of extra calories. Unlike anorexia sufferers, people with BED aren’t bent on controlling their weight and shape.

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-The age of onset is typically around 21 years old; other eating disorders tend to start in the teen years.

-People with Binge Eating Disorder typically quickly consume abnormally large amounts of food in one sitting. They feel out-of-control and unable to stop themselves, and eat until they are over-stuffed—well past the point of feeling full.

-Binging at least once a week for three months is a defining criterion for having BED.

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-People with BED come in all shapes and sizes—they can be overweight, underweight, normal weight, or obese. The condition occurs equally among men and women, and among all races. As Dr. Oliver-Pyatt said, “We have to get past the assumption that it’s just privileged white girls” affected by eating disorders.

-Binging is often done secretly, and the drive to do it is so consuming that a person will miss out on social events to eat. Dr. Olive-Pyatt described being “mugged” by the disorder.

-A heavy sense of shame follows the binge.

-The basis of BED is a mix of neurochemical reactions and family history.

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