Portland Therapy Blog

Portland Therapy Blog

Local experts share the latest information and resources on all things mental health.

Obesity or Binge Eating Disorder?

Posted: May 01, 2015 by Jeff Guenther

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is now receiving stronger recognition among the medical community as well as in mainstream media in part thanks to tennis star Monica Seles’s recent public reveal of her struggle with the disorder.

An estimated 30-40% of individuals seeking weight loss help have BED and about 2.8 million adults suffer from the disorder in the US. One of the most critical points to understand about binge eaters, is that if the BED diagnosis is missed and the individual is advised to diet and exercise to treat obesity, it will worsen the binge eating. This causes emotional distress, depression, weight gain, and feelings of despair to increase. As a treatment provider, or as an individual suffering from BED it is important to identify what’s going on and to seek appropriate professional support.

So what makes binge eating different from overeating or obesity?

Some of the most common personality traits of a person suffering from BED:

  • Low self-directedness
  • Overvaluation of weight and shape
  • Perfectionism
  • Depressive affect

To help you understand more about what goes on for someone who suffers from BED, these are key diagnostic criteria:

  • Having a feeling of lack of control and a feeling that one cannot stop eating despite feeling full
  • Eating large amounts of food without hunger
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment and shame about one’s eating
  • Feeling disgust and intense guilt after eating
  • Eating until feeling physically sick from fullness
  • Binge eating disorder is not associated with any compensatory behaviors such as purging, laxative use, or exercising to purge.

BED often goes untreated because of the secrecy, shame and embarrassment one feels about their eating. Often these individuals feel that they are the only one who eats this way, that no one could ever understand. It is incredibly isolating and lonely to suffer from BED, and typically the binge episodes happen in isolation and are clouded in secrecy.

Not all individuals with BED are overweight or obese. Living with this disorder is emotionally exhausting and very depressing and people of all sizes are suffering in silence as their health declines and hope for normal eating fades.

The good news is more research than ever before is being conducted on how to successfully treat BED and I have seen many clients heal from this and find peace with food. Both physiological (nutrition) components as well as psychological components are addressed with proper treatment for recovery.

Remember, if someone you know is searching for weight loss support, there may be more going on than the person is comfortable sharing. First develop trust with the person and listen closely for clues that BED may be a concern. Jumping in to diet and exercise plans may be harmful for someone suffering with BED, emphasizing the call for proper identification and treatment as these are the keys to long term recovery!

This article was written by By Sumner Brooks, MPH, RDN, LD who is an eating disorder treatment specialist. You can find out more about her and schedule an appointment with her by visiting her website.

Tags: addiction and behavior, body issues

Jeff Guenther (he/him)

Licensed Professional Counselor


I help people who feel anxious in relationships stop feeling anxious in relationships.

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Anxiety, Codependency, Adjustment Disorder, Relationship / Marriage Issues, Self-Esteem