How is binge eating disorder diagnosed?

  • The diagnosis of binge eating disorder typically involves a thorough evaluation by a healthcare or mental health professional. To diagnose binge eating disorder, the healthcare provider follows specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

  • Key diagnostic criteria include:

    1. Recurrent episodes of binge eating, defined by:

    • Eating an excessive amount of food within a discrete time period (e.g., within two hours).
    • A sense of lack of control during the binge episode.
  • 2. Binge eating episodes occur at least once a week for three months or more. If the behavior occurs less frequently, the person may experience a low-frequency version of bulimia, which falls under the “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder” category.

  • 3. The presence of three or more of the following:

    • Eating more rapidly than normal.
    • Eating until uncomfortably full.
    • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry.
    • Eating alone due to embarrassment about the quantity consumed.
    • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after the episodes.
  • 4. Binge eating is not associated with regular compensatory behaviors like purging, as seen in bulimia nervosa.

  • A thorough assessment also considers the individual's medical history, eating patterns, emotional state, and physical health. It's essential to consult with a qualified healthcare provider or mental health specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment planning.

    People often experience binge eating for months or years before seeking treatment.

Who is affected by binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder, like all eating disorders, does not discriminate. It impacts individuals of all body sizes, both sexes, gender identities, ages, demographics, and socioeconomic statuses.

Research studies in the U.S. find that up to 3.5% of females and 2% of males experience binge eating disorder during their lifetime (Hudson et al., 2007), making it the most prevalent eating disorder in the country. In a large worldwide study, it was found that binge eating disorder most commonly emerges in the late teens to early 20s (Kessler et al., 2013).

Similar to other eating disorders, the prevalence rate of binge eating disorder is thought to be underreported. One of the major reasons for this is underdiagnosis due to weight stigma, where healthcare providers, often out of lack of awareness, believe that binging is a choice rather than an element of a disorder. It is therefore important to be assessed by an eating disorder specialist if you suspect you or someone you love may experience binge eating disorder.

Several factors increase the risk of developing BED:

  • Dieting and weight concerns: Dieting, especially extreme or restrictive diets, can increase the risk of developing BED. The cycle of restriction followed by overeating can lead to a loss of control during binge episodes.
  • Psychological factors: Psychological factors, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and a history of trauma or abuse, are strongly associated with BED. Binge eating may serve as a way to cope with emotional distress.
  • Genetics: There appears to be a genetic component to BED. Individuals with a family history of eating disorders, including BED or other eating disorders, may be at a higher risk of developing the disorder.
  • Sociocultural pressures: Sociocultural factors, such as societal emphasis on thinness, beauty ideals, and weight stigma, can contribute to body dissatisfaction and increase the risk of BED. These factors may lead to emotional eating and binge episodes.
  • Adverse childhood experiences: Individuals who had traumatic or adverse childhood experiences may be at an increased risk of developing BED. Childhood weight-related teasing or bullying can contribute to emotional eating patterns that persist into adulthood.
  • Socioeconomics and food access: low socioeconomic status, food insecurity and restricted food access can also contribute to increased risk of BED (Keski-Rahkonen, 2021).

Binge eating disorder health risks.

Binge eating disorder (BED) can have several significant health risks and consequences, including:

  • Gastrointestinal problems: Frequent overeating can result in gastrointestinal discomfort, such as acid reflux, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Metabolic disorders: The disorder can contribute to metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • Mental health issues: BED is often accompanied by mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
  • Physical health concerns: Joint pain, sleep apnea, and breathing difficulties, are common among individuals with BED.
  • Dental issues: Frequent consumption of large amounts of food, particularly sugary or high-calorie foods, can lead to dental problems such as cavities and gum disease.
  • Reduced quality of life: BED can significantly impact an individual's quality of life, leading to social isolation, decreased self-esteem, and impaired daily functioning.
  • Increased mortality risk: Untreated BED can increase the risk of premature death.

Early intervention and appropriate treatment, including psychotherapy and nutritional counseling, are crucial to address the health risks associated with binge eating disorder and help individuals improve their well-being.

Binge eating disorder treatment prognostics.

While more studies are needed, research studies demonstrate that it is possible to recover from binge eating disorder. One study found that evidence based psychotherapy led to full recovery in 64% of participants (Hilbert et al., 2012). It is important to note that binge eating disorder requires comprehensive psychological treatment. Weight loss treatment is not efficacious in treating binge eating disorder, and should not be the primary focus when treating this disease (Wilson et al., 2010).

Although it is possible to recover from binge eating disorder with the right treatment, only 43.6% of people affected receive proper treatment (NIMH). One of the best ways to improve treatment outcomes is to start treatment early.

At Monte Nido & Affiliates, our clients with BED experience over 70% improvement on all of our measurements after 6 months of treatment.

  • 92% of clients reported reduced eating disorder symptoms on the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire
  • 75% of clients reported reduced eating disorder symptoms on the Eating Disorder Inventory self-report
  • 70% of clients reported improvement in their quality of life
  • 85% of BED residential clients reported improvements in depression
  • 88% of BED residential clients with PTSD at time of admission reported improvement in their trauma symptoms.

Learn more about our specialty virtual program to treat BED

Walden’s Free to Be IOP

You are not alone. We’re here to help.

Walden, a Monte Nido Affiliate, offers a specialized virtual treatment program for binge eating disorder. If you are concerned that you, or a loved one, may have an eating disorder, we are here to help.

Please reach out or email to connect with a member of our Admissions Team. Begin your journey to recovery today.


Hilbert A, Bishop ME, Stein RI, Tanofsky-Kraff M, Swenson AK, Welch RR, Wilfley DE. Long-term efficacy of psychological treatments for binge eating disorder. Br J Psychiatry. 2012 Mar;200(3):232-7. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.089664. Epub 2012 Jan 26. PMID: 22282429; PMCID: PMC3290797.

Hudson JI, Hiripi E, Pope HG Jr, Kessler RC. The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Feb 1;61(3):348-58. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.03.040. Epub 2006 Jul 3. Erratum in: Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Jul 15;72(2):164. PMID: 16815322; PMCID: PMC1892232.

Keski-Rahkonen A. Epidemiology of binge eating disorder: prevalence, course, comorbidity, and risk factors. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2021 Nov 1;34(6):525-531. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000750. PMID: 34494972.

Kessler RC, Berglund PA, Chiu WT, Deitz AC, Hudson JI, Shahly V, Aguilar-Gaxiola S, Alonso J, Angermeyer MC, Benjet C, Bruffaerts R, de Girolamo G, de Graaf R, Maria Haro J, Kovess-Masfety V, O'Neill S, Posada-Villa J, Sasu C, Scott K, Viana MC, Xavier M. The prevalence and correlates of binge eating disorder in the World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys. Biol Psychiatry. 2013 May 1;73(9):904-14. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.11.020. Epub 2013 Jan 3. PMID: 23290497; PMCID: PMC3628997.

Wilson GT, Wilfley DE, Agras WS, Bryson SW. Psychological treatments of binge eating disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010 Jan;67(1):94-101. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.170. PMID: 20048227; PMCID: PMC3757519.

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