When food rules you

Binge eating disorder isn’t just about scoffing a few too many biscuits now and then. It’s a mental disorder that’s most common among the middle-aged. So how do you know when occasional overeating is tipping over into something serious?

When we consider eating disorders we usually think of anorexia and bulimia nervosa, which are both typically associated with teenagers and young adults. But there’s another disorder that’s under-reported and little understood, despite being more common than anorexia, called binge eating disorder (BED).

According to a report from eating disorder charity Beat, it’s estimated that around 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. Just under half of these people suffer with BED and the other half with bulimia (anorexia accounts for just under 1% of eating disorder sufferers). Yet it’s only in the past few years that BED has been recognised as a disorder in its own right.

It’s estimated that binge eating disorder accounts for nearly half of all eating disorder cases

‘Binge eating disorder is much more common than you might think,’ says GP and HFG expert Dr Dawn Harper. ‘Although we have an estimated figure for how many people suffer, we still don’t know the true incidence because so many hide it.’

It can affect both sexes, too. Although it’s thought that eating disorders in general affect many more women than men (around 90% of sufferers are estimated to be women), the number of men and women affected by BED is more equal than for other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. And, while it tends to develop first in young adults, many people don’t seek help until they reach their 30s or 40s.

The warning signs

‘It’s difficult to recognise a binge eater,’ says a spokesperson for eating disorder charity Beat. ‘They may still eat in a very “normal” way around family and friends, at home and in social settings, because their bingeing will be done in secret. They may become overweight, but not everyone who is overweight is bingeing.’

Some indicators of binge eating disorder include:

  • BINGEING at least once a week for three weeks or more
  • PLANNING binges and buying ‘special’ binge foods
  • ANXIETY or depression
  • SECRETIVE behaviour, such as hiding food
  • FEELINGS of extreme guilt after overeating

This feature originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Healthy Food Guide Magazine
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