02/27/2014 10:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Most Common Eating Disorder People Don't Know They Have

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (beginning February 24) is upon us and it is an excellent time to remember that disordered eating of all kinds, across the spectrum, encompasses far more than most people realize.

Anorexia (restrictive or purge-like behaviors in an effort to become as thin as possible) and Bulimia (binge/purge behaviors) are the most well-known eating disorders and we've made great strides in raising awareness of both of these devastating problems.

But there is another form of eating disorder that is just beginning to be widely discussed, and it's one to which many people can relate: binge eating disorder (or BED). Binge eating disorder is now classified in the latest edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which lays out specific criteria for diagnosis. As a result, you're now beginning to hear more about this insidious disorder -- and many people are surprised to learn that help is available and attainable.


Though it is common for eating-disorder sufferers to experience more than one type, binge eating disorder has some unique attributes when compared with Anorexia and Bulimia:

• Binge eating disorder affects nearly as many men as women. About 40 percent of people with binge eating disorder are male, compared to just 5 to 15 percent for anorexia or bulimia. Overall, though, eating disorders are on the rise in boys and men.
• Binge eating disorder is much more common in middle-aged women than in teens and young adults. In part this may relate to hormonal and metabolic changes that occur in midlife. Another possible reason is the sense of deprivation or personal neglect that may fester in women who are juggling multiple caretaker roles in their lives.
• Though obesity can and often does result from binge eating, many people with binge eating disorder are not overweight.

It's also important to distinguish binge eating disorder from other forms of disordered overeating. Compulsive overeating (grazing that goes on and on, eating and drinking all the time with no sense of portion control) and emotional eating (eating that is situational and triggered by your perception of stressful events or feelings) are related but not the same. Binge eating, in its truest form, is what's going on when you ingest many thousands of calories in a relatively short period of time... multiple times each day, night or week... (usually) in secret.

Here are some other interesting facts about binge eating disorder:

• In addition to stress, common binge-eating triggers include boredom, depression, alcohol abuse and food restriction (deprivation leads to the inevitable "all or nothing" swing of the pendulum).
• "Binge foods" have some common characteristics -- they tend to be carbohydrates, light in color and smooth in texture.
• Many binge eaters alternate sweet and salty foods, one after the next.
• The three most common binge foods seem to be cereal, peanut butter and ice cream.
Many people overeat from time to time, but that doesn't mean they have binge eating disorder. If you are wondering whether you might have it, the key question to ask yourself is whether your binge eating episodes feel out of control and whether this pattern of eating is interfering with relationships, intimacy, social contact, work habits or other important parts of your life. If the answer is yes, it's important to seek help. It's available, it works and it may just end up saving your life.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.