Content warning: Discussion of eating disorders, triggers, body image, and weight
Binge eating disorder can lead to very rapid weight gain, which in turn, causes inflammation and health problems in other parts of the body. Caroline M. Apovian, MD, a Mass General Brigham obesity medicine specialist and co-director of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Center for Weight Management and Wellness, describes the signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder, potential triggers, the health risks, and how it's treated.
Dr. Apovian explains that overeating or even bingeing once in a while is not a disorder. Binge eating disorder is more severe, and symptoms include:
When comparing binge eating disorder vs bulimia, they appear to be very similar conditions. Both include binge eating as a coping mechanism and have emotional and psychological impacts on people. Health consequences are similar as well.
Both bulimia and binge eating disorder can cause:
The main difference is that bulimia is followed by purging often by inducing vomiting. People who struggle with binge eating disorder don't purge the food they binge.
Binge eating disorder can lead to rapid weight gain, causing inflammation in other parts of the body like:
This inflammation can lead to:
Binge eating disorder has a variety of potential triggers, including:
Some situations and environments may increase your chances of having a binge eating episode. Social gatherings that involving meals, well-meaning but pushy family members encouraging you to eat, candy or pastry dishes shared at work, or even larger food packaging and portions, can trigger an episode. It takes time to recognize your common triggers, but the best way to start is to talk to your doctor. Together, you can make a plan to help manage these triggers.
"If you think you have binge eating disorder, it's very important to first talk to your primary care provider (PCP) about your symptoms,” says Dr. Apovian. Your PCP can then help you find the right specialty care to support you, including:
“Treatment for binge eating disorder is focused on targeting the brain to stop binge eating,” according to Dr. Apovian.
Research on binge eating is offering new insights into potential treatments. Dr. Apovian and her colleagues recently published a study on carbohydrate overfeeding, showing that overeating carbohydrates and sugar releases stress hormones throughout the body.
"This study is groundbreaking because it shows that a calorie is not a calorie. Some people can take in all those extra calories and burn them off as heat. But we found that those people who tend to gain weight and have obesity, don’t burn those calories off at heat, they store them as fat,” she explains.