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Statistics on Binge Eating Disorder | What Is Binge Eating?

Last updated on August 20, 2020

Did you realize that Binge Eating Disorder is more common than breast cancer, HIV, and schizophrenia?

Binge Eating Disorder is also three times more common than Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa combined.

This makes Binge Eating Disorder the most commonly diagnosed  eating disorder by far.

And sometimes people who have not been diagnosed officially as having Binge Eating Disorder will exhibit behaviors that are similar or are actually part of this Disorder.  

We won’t talk about these other behaviors in this article, but they include:

  • Food addiction
  • Compulsive eating
  • Emotional eating

While not officially Binge Eating Disorder, these other behaviors really make binge eating and overeating even more common!

Indeed, there is some research that indicates that up to 30% of people seeking weight loss could exhibit symptoms of binge eating. 

With Binge Eating Disorder so common, let’s learn about it.  

What Is Binge Eating?

Binge eating in general (not the official Binge Eating Order diagnosis that I’ll discuss shortly) is where you:

  • Eat extraordinary amounts of food ….
  • very quickly and …..
  • all in one sitting 

While binge eating, a person typically loses a sense of control. 

This loss of control can appear in various ways:

  • Disconnection or ‘floating’
  • Intense distress, ‘powerless to stop’ feeling
  • Numbness, forgetfulness
  • Autopilot behavior

And, importantly, after eating such a large amount of food, a person typically feels terribly ashamed and guilty. 

How Big Is A Binge And What Do People Eat During Binge Eating?

75% of binge eating episodes are around 1000 calories consumed.

However, 25% of binge eating episodes are over 2000 calories consumed.

Furthermore, sometimes a person overeats a tiny bit of food, but perceives that they overate a greater amount of food. 

When people overeat, oftentimes the foods binged upon are highly convenient, sugary, and processed. 

However there are many instances when the binged foods are normal foods you wouldn’t suspect, like berries, nuts, or protein bars.

While the foods eaten during a binge vary, almost universally the person binges upon foods that they perceive as ‘forbidden’. 

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge Eating Disorder is when you have a habit of binge eating but to an extreme degree. 

Binge Eating Disorder is a clinical diagnosis and is defined by the following criteria found in the DSM-5.

(The DSM-5 is the manual which Medical uses for insurance reimbursement and is considered the gold standard in clinical therapy)

The criteria for Binge Eating Disorder are:

  • Repeated episodes of Binge Eating, where Binge Eating is defined as:
    • Eating a much larger amount of food than normal
    • AND a lack of control
  • Frequency:
    • at least 1 day a week for 3 months
  • Plus three or more of the following symptoms:
    • Eating rapidly
    • Consuming large amounts of food when not hungry
    • Eating alone because embarrassment
    • Feeling disgusted with oneself after eating
    • Feeling distress when eating
  • The Binge Eating Disorder diagnosis also requires NO behaviors of the following:
    • Bulimia nervosa
    • Anorexia nervosa
    • Purging

What’s The Difference Between Binge Eating and Binge Eating Disorder?

Oftentimes people who binge eat do not meet the strict criteria for Binge Eating Disorder.

For example:

  • Someone who bi-weekly binge eats way too much food and feels guilty would NOT have Binge Eating Disorder
  • A person who overeats a little bit, feels a loss of control and horribly guilty would NOT have Binge Eating Disorder
  • Someone who has bad health, overeats in a short period of time but doesn’t perceive themselves as losing control would NOT have Binge Eating Disorder

People who do not have Binge Eating Disorder but still suffer from food and eating problems are designated as having the behavior ‘Disordered Eating’.

Most clients that I work with fall into the Disordered Eating category and gradually make their way to the positive mode of becoming able to eat intuitively.

How Common Is Binge Eating?

As stated above, some estimates report that 30% of people seeking weight loss treatments exhibit signs of binge eating, according to NEDA.

Let’s see what this might translate to.  In doing so, keep in mind how big and ubiquitous the weight loss industry is — in the United States, weight loss was a 64 billion dollar industry according to Franchise Help

Boston Medical Center reports that 45 million Americans attempt dieting each year.

Quick Binge Eating  Math:

45 Million x .3 = 13.5 Million people who binge eat

13.5 Million, Isn’t That A Bit Much?

No, it’s a reasonable number.  Binge eating is actually quite common.  In contrast, as we’ll talk about below, diagnosed Binge Eating Disorder is less common.

Plus, we all know that most people who try to lose weight will regain that weight.

What happens when you regain weight? 

While some people gradually regain weight, many people ‘fall off the wagon’.

This ‘falling off the wagon’ is colloquial for binge eating!

Just to reiterate and be clear, the 13.5 million number refers to people who binge eat but who do not necessarily have Binge Eating Disorder.

For more information on Binge Eating Disorder, see my 101 article here.

How Many People Are Diagnosed With Binge Eating Disorder?

According to a national survey, Binge Eating Disorder affects an average of 2.8 million people in the United States.

Specifically about 3.5% of women and 2% of men are diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder. 

Overall, around 2.8% of people in the United States will be diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder in their lifetime.

Regarding the source of these statistics on Binge Eating Disorder, let’s talk briefly about the National Comorbidity Survey Replication which indirectly addresses statistics on binge eating disorder.

National Comorbidity Survey Replication

The National Comorbidity Survey Replication was a survey on the prevalence and correlates of mental health in the United States.

Its goal was to study mental health in the United States.  This has been the most extensive national mental health survey to date.

A specific goal was to learn more about the national comorbidity rates between disorders.

Comorbidity simply means you have two disorders at once.

So if someone has depression and anxiety disorders at the same time, this person displays signs of comorbidity.

Overall, 9,282 face-to-face mental health interviews were conducted in the home of the respondents between the years 2001 and 2003.

Who Is At Risk For Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge Eating Disorder affects all races, genders and socio-economic classes.

While Binge Eating Disorder affects more women than men, Binge Eating Disorder is still the most commonly diagnosed eating disorder for men.

Statistics on Binge Eating Disorder show that there are three main factors of risk for developing the disorder:

  1. Family History – a family member has been diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder. Some health reports indicate that up to 50% of the risk for  developing Binge Eating Disorder can be genetic.
  2. Dieting – dieting is the gateway to Binge Eating Disorder. Dieting can make a person more susceptible to food cravings and higher appetites.
  3. Psychological – often people who binge eat are under lots of stress in life, and they often begin binge eating in response to major life stressors such as a transition in career, relationship, family or a variety of other factors.

Binge Eating Disorder Is Curable With Treatment

These are just a few statistics on Binge Eating Disorder.

Overall, I hope that you see the prevalence and correlates this eating disorder has to mainstream health in the United States. 

By seeing the statistics of how many other people struggle with this eating disorder, you can know that your struggles are quite normal.

There’s nothing to be ashamed about if you binge eat or have one of the other correlates of eating disorders.

Fortunately there is treatment for all correlates of eating disorders, including Binge Eating Disorder.

The treatment for eating disorder binging problem involves three main health education areas:

  1. learning nutritional basics
  2. education about dieting and restriction
  3. psychology and stress management

Treatments for eating disorders all involve working with a professional for a variety of reasons.

The most important reason to work with a health professional for the treatment of eating disorders involves the need to learn new skills.

For starters, as a person undergoes treatment for their eating disorders, they’ll get out of the ‘comfort zone’.

In one sense, it might sound strange to think of eating disorders as being within someone’s comfort zone, but many times these eating disorders temporarily help a person manage stress or anxiety.

But, of course, relying upon eating disorders to manage stress and anxiety backfires in incredibly harmful ways:

  • long term health consequences
  • 1/5 people diagnosed with anorexia die from suicide
  • lower quality of life

As a person attempts to learn new skills during treatment for their eating disorders, there is inevitably going to be some degree of ‘failure’ or negative feedback.  That is, you can’t expect to fix your eating disorder overnight, and there will be instances where you binge eat.

Handling failure and helping a client grow and learn from their new experiences is the role of the eating disorder therapist or counselor during treatment.

Without a therapist or counselor during treatment, the eating disorder’s voices of self-criticism can overwhelm the individual trying to recover.

Despite making progress, a person attempting treatment by themselves may view their progress as insubstantial.

Or they may incorrectly perceive their failures as being more indicative of failure than they really are.

Overall, the client may not have the inner resources needed to complete this arduous journey of healing.

However, this is by no means meant to be discouraging!

Remember, you CAN move from binge eating or Binge Eating Disorder to a more positive relationship with food and your body, but professional help is most likely needed to do this properly.

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