Binge eating disorder (BED), different from occasional overindulging, is the uncontrollable eating of large amounts of food in a short time. Unlike bulimia, a person with BED usually doesn't purge, fast, abuse diuretics or laxatives, or overexercise. Estimates suggest that 2 percent of Americans (as many as 4 million) have this disorder—many are obese or overweight.
The concerns are physical, psychological, and social. Large amounts of food eaten by binge eaters are typically high in fats and added sugars, and may lack sufficient vitamins and minerals. With the likelihood of overweight and obesity comes an increased risk for serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, and some cancers. Binge eating often results in depression, embarrassment, and social isolation; those with the disorder are often upset by both the problem and their inability to control their eating.
Although the cause of BED isn't clear, there's a link to depression and other negative emotions. Among the areas of research: the effect of brain chemicals and metabolism, and whether depression is a cause or a result of binge eating disorder.
Who's at Risk for Binge Eating Disorder?
Although many people with BED are overweight or obese (often severely obese), even normal-weight people have this disorder. More women than men deal with BED, but it's the most common eating disorder among men.
BED: The Warning Signs
Being overstuffed after an exceptional meal isn't necessarily a warning sign. Instead, people with binge eating disorder typically have several characteristics:
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