Binge Eating Disorder and Obesity: Definition, Discussion and Treatment

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  • 0:07 Definitions
  • 2:11 Causes and Treatment
  • 4:26 Obesity
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Binge-eating disorders are difficult to confront, but can be relatively easy to treat. This lesson explores some of the causes and issues related to binge-eating disorder, as well as to obesity in general.


I feel kind of bad writing this since most of my lessons I write about have to do with me consuming an unhealthy amount of candy, chips, or soda. You'd expect me to weigh more than I do, but luckily, my metabolism keeps up with the garbage I feed it. Unfortunately, many people are not so lucky in this world. In fact, what I may actually have is very mild form of a binge-eating disorder. Binge-eating disorder is diagnosed with these criteria:

  • Recurrent eating in a short period of time is definitely larger than what most others would eat.
  • Experiencing a sensation of a lack of control over eating.
  • Eating like this is associated with rapid eating, uncomfortable fullness, eating while not hungry, embarrassment over how much is eaten, or feeling disgusted or guilty about how much was eaten.
  • Distress over eating occurs for at least three months.

Basically, when you put all of this together, we have an individual who is eating more than other people would at this time. So if you or I would eat about 600 calories, this person eats 800 or more. When they do eat, they don't feel like they can stop, and after eating, they feel gross, either physically or emotionally. Lastly, this needs to happen often over three months. Just so we're clear, binge-eating disorder does not include any kind of purging or any other components. That would be the domain of bulimia and anorexia, which are discussed in other lessons.

The severity of binge-eating disorder is differentiated by how often the binge eating occurs. If it is one to three times a week, it is seen as mild. Four to seven is moderate. Eight to 13 is severe. And more than 14 binge-eating episodes a week is seen as extreme. Often, the more severe, the more difficult it is to treat. Let's look at the causes and treatment of binge-eating disorder.

Causes & Treatment

Like many other eating disorders, the exact cause is unknown. Likely, there is a combination of factors, such as family history, biological factors, and psychological issues, that all play out. What likely happens is that food and the act of eating is no longer about eating; it is about an extension of something underlying. If, for instance, an individual is overly stressed, they may look to food to calm them down - the so-called stress eaters. Or maybe binge-eating is a way of avoiding an underlying emotional issue and is used the same way that cutting is - an external control of emotions.

Treating this disorder can be difficult due to the shame involved with it, particularly due to the cultural value placed on thinness and fitness. To suggest to someone, who is not fully aware of the problem, that they are eating too much or too often is very uncomfortable. This can be especially true if the person is overweight, since it can morph into feelings of being attacked and defensiveness. However, being able to approach and discuss the issue is necessary for the next step.

How one approaches the issue will depend on their personal style and the personality of the client. After the issue has been broached, the shift will need to be on the underlying issue. Telling someone with a binge-eating disorder to stop eating so much is like telling a diabetic to start making more insulin. It just doesn't work that way. What is happening is the binge eating is an extension of something underlying.

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