Does Dieting Contribute to the Development of Binge Eating Disorder?

Category: Eating Disorders
9 minute read.

Statistics provided by the National Eating Disorder Association estimate that approximately thirty million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. Worldwide, that number is more than double. The problem with statistics on eating disorders is that they are often inaccurate as many sufferers do not come forward and speak to a medical provider about their symptoms. As a result, many people who struggle each day with the symptoms associated with an eating disorder never receive a diagnosis or proper treatment. There are many reasons people suffer alone when they have an eating disorder. Some people feel embarrassed, and others experience denial or even confusion about what their symptoms indicate.

Eating disorders can vary vastly in symptoms and behaviors, which means fitting someone neatly into a specific eating disorder classification can be challenging. As a result, people often struggle for months or years to obtain a diagnosis that allows them to seek treatment. This can be discouraging, and often people give up before they receive the help they want and need.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

It is not uncommon for people to confuse binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa as the symptoms are quite similar. However, binge eating disorder or BED is a severe and life-threatening diagnosis that indeed differs from bulimia. When someone has a binge eating disorder, they will eat an excessive amount of food, often in a short time. In general, they will eat to the point of experiencing pain or discomfort.

The primary factor that sets binge eating disorder apart from bulimia nervosa involves purging. Someone with bulimia nervosa will purge after eating. The act of purging generally involves self-induced vomiting or using laxatives and/or diuretics to flush food from their bodies. Binge eating disorder does not include purging behaviors. While feelings of guilt or shame may accompany a binge, someone with a binge eating disorder will not turn to unhealthy measures like purging or excessive exercise to compensate for overeating.

Binge eating disorder is one of the newest eating disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM). It was not recognized as a formal diagnosis until the most recent update of the manual in 2013. At that time, binge eating disorder was introduced to the manual as a subtype of OSFED or other unspecified feeding and eating disorder (formerly EDNOS or eating disorder not otherwise specified). 

Despite being considered a “new” diagnosis, research indicates binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States. Recent data released by the National Eating Disorders Association indicates binge eating disorder is three times more common than bulimia and anorexia combined. It is also more common in the population than breast cancer, HIV, and schizophrenia.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

The symptoms of binge eating disorder often present during adolescence and early adulthood. Someone who struggles with binge eating disorder will exhibit signs and symptoms similar to those of someone with bulimia. They usually eat abnormally large amounts of food over a very short time.

Another common struggle for someone with a binge eating disorder is that they cannot control how quickly or how much they eat when binging. Unlike bulimia, however, someone with a binge eating disorder does not use behaviors like vomiting, purging, or other calorie restricting behaviors to compensate for the amount of caloric intake during a binge. For a provider to diagnose binge eating disorder, you must engage in excessive food intake at least once each week over a minimum period of three months.

Can Dieting Lead to Binge Eating Disorder?

Dieting is not uncommon among Americans. In fact, studies indicate more than half of all American’s have tried to lose weight in the last year. Finding products to “help” you lose weight is not difficult. Television commercials and social media advertisements regarding weight loss programs, meal plans, and dietary supplements designed to help you shed unwanted pounds are plentiful. Unfortunately, many of these products or plans advertise a quick fix to body image concerns. Often, a quick fix involves unhealthy behaviors or dietary restrictions that are unattainable or unachievable. Because many diet plans involve food restriction in some form, it doesn’t take long for the weight to return after going off a particular diet plan or supplement.

Significant changes to one’s eating patterns can lead to eating disorders. The NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) indicates up to 35% of dieting evolves into obsessive behavior. Of those, up to 25% turn into a diagnosable eating disorder. Most people who seek help at a treatment center like The Los Angeles Outpatient Center to overcome an eating disorder indicate their challenges with food began with a diet.

When you “go on a diet,” you make a conscious effort to restrict food intake or significantly alter the type and quantity of food you eat. For many, restrictive diets are a gateway to binge eating, which leads to rapid weight loss. This, in turn, increases the pressure to restrict food intake further. Combined, this cycle leads to dangerous, potentially fatal medical and mental health challenges.

The Health Impacts of Binge Eating Disorder

Any type of eating disorder can be dangerous to your physical and emotional health. Some diagnoses rank among the leading causes of death in our nation each year. Although the risk for death from binge eating disorder is not as significant as anorexia or bulimia, the long-term medical effects such as obesity and other binge eating disorder-linked health risks put one’s long-term health and wellness in jeopardy. It is important to note that BED is directly linked to weight gain and obesity, and one in five deaths in the United States is connected to obesity.

Many of the health risks linked to binge eating disorders are not immediate, as certain disease processes take time to develop. This does not reduce their danger or severity. Without treatment, binge eating disorder can lead to several long-term health consequences, including type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart and gallbladder disease, joint and muscle problems, certain cancers, stomach and GI problems, mental health challenges, sleep apnea, and many others. However, with treatment, it is possible to slow or even reverse the impacts of many conditions linked to binge eating disorder.

Treating Binge Eating Disorder

The NEDA estimates less than 30% of people with a current binge eating disorder diagnosis are enrolled at a treatment center like The Los Angeles Outpatient Center to learn how to manage their symptoms. Estimates show that just over 40% of people with binge eating disorders will ever seek or receive the help they need to put food challenges in the past. The road to recovery from an eating disorder will look different for everyone. Talking to your primary care provider or a mental health provider can help you decide what steps are right for you.

When someone struggles with an eating disorder, it is likely not a short-term challenge. Many people diagnosed with binge eating disorder or another condition have suffered in silence for months or years before deciding to seek help. For this reason, there are often medical concerns that must be addressed before therapy is possible. It is not uncommon for the first step in most eating disorder treatment programs to include some form of medical intervention. Depending on the severity of your condition, this may range from a health check-up to hospitalization for a brief time. This step is often crucial as it allows you the time you need to safely gain your strength and recover from vitamin and other nutritional deficiencies that typically accompany most eating disorders. Depending on the individual and their specific treatment needs, this process could take several weeks.

While the best treatment for you will depend on your specific diagnosis, it must involve a team of skilled treatment professionals who understand the physical and emotional struggles of eating disorders. As an example, our eating disorder programs at The Los Angeles Outpatient Center involve a team of dietitians, mental health professionals, and your primary care provider. Your individually designed treatment program will include nutrition education, therapies, medications (if appropriate), and information about lifestyle modifications you can use to prevent relapse in the future.

Eating disorders are not likely to resolve without help and treatment. Learning how to safely manage the mental health challenges at the root of harmful eating behavior is vital to achieving lasting wellness. The most effective way to accomplish this goal is through therapy. Psychotherapy or talk therapy helps you better manage your symptoms while addressing the root challenges that led to disordered eating behaviors. During treatment, you will learn how to monitor your feelings and behaviors as they relate to food. You will also learn and practice healthy coping strategies and more effective ways to address everyday stressors that lead to harmful eating habits.

Some eating disorder treatment programs may include medications. It is important to note that medications cannot “cure” an eating disorder; however, some medicines may help control the urge to binge eat or purge after eating. Common examples of drugs used as part of an eating disorder treatment plan may include anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. These drugs can help manage the sometimes overwhelming symptoms of anxiety and depression that are often associated with eating disorders. Your treatment team will work with you to determine if your treatment plan should include medications.

Overcoming an eating disorder is not an easy process. For many, the journey to lasting health and wellness is a journey that will last throughout their lives. Seeking help at a specialized treatment program like The Los Angeles Outpatient Center is the best way to learn how to manage and overcome your symptoms. To learn more about our programs and how they can help you or a loved one, contact our admissions team today. Let us help you put eating struggles in the past.