You may be feeling out of control with food or unhappy with your eating and wondering how to know if you have binge eating disorder. This blog post is written to help you better understand the differences between binge eating disorder, binge eating, and other types of eating disorders.  It is also written to give you information both about binge eating and binge eating disorder. It is important to know that although this article was written by a psychologist that is an Atlanta binge eating disorder specialist, this blog post is not a substitute for therapy. This post is for information purposes only. If you are struggling with binge eating or an eating disorder you are welcome to reach out for a free consultation or therapy appointment.

What is binge eating

There is a difference between binge eating and having a diagnosis of binge eating disorder. Although, both can feel very upsetting and deserve treatment. Someone may binge eat but not meet criteria for a diagnosis of an eating disorder. In figuring out how to know if you have binge eating disorder it is important to first start with what defines binge eating.

A diagnosis of binge eating disorder or a binge is determine by criteria in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM). The DSM is what mental health professionals use to diagnose things like generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, eating disorders and more. According to the DSM, Binge Eating is defined by: (1) eating an amount of food that is “definitely larger” than what most people would consider typical in a two hour period (2) feeling that it is hard to control how much you are eating or stop eating. You must meet criteria 1 and 2 for it to be considered a binge eating episode. If you have been binging for a while and have given up trying to stop the binging, you may also meet criteria for binge eating disorder.

In determining how to know if you have binge eating disorder, you must first meet criteria for a binge. You then need to also have feelings of distress about binge eating. Additionally, there has to be no “compensatory behaviors.” What this means is things to make up for the binge such as making yourself throw up or over exercising excessively or restricting your eating. You also need to have three of any of the following symptoms associated with your binge:
-Eating faster than normal
-Eating until you feel uncomfortably full
-Eating a large amount of food when you are not physically hungry
-Eating alone because you are embarrassed about how much food you are eating
-After you binge eat there are feelings of being disgusted, sad, or guilty

Objective versus subjective binge

I imagine determining if you have binge eating disorder may feel more complicated than you imagined already. What makes things even more complex is there is a difference between a subjective and objective binge. I have worked with many patients who told me they were binging daily, but after our discussions we were able to determine while it felt like they were binge eating, they were actually emotional eating or mindless eating.

In diagnosing binge eating disorder there is a difference between an objective and a subjective binge. An objective binge is eating a large amount of food that others would say this is particularly large. This can look like many things. Some examples are a jar of peanut butter with Oreos or a large pizza and gallon of ice cream. These foods also need to be eaten within about a two-hour window with feelings of being out of control or you have given up efforts to control your eating.  So, eating a large pizza throughout the day would not typically be considered a binge. Mindlessly eating a large bowl of popcorn as you work would also not likely be considered a binge. Eating a pint of ice cream because it was so good you felt like you could not put it down is also not considered a binge. If you ate a pint of ice cream, a Chipotle bowl, two bags of M and M’s, and four bananas in one sitting, this would be an amount of food that would qualify as an objective binge.

With a subjective binge it can feel like you are eating a lot of food and feel out of control. You can feel unhappy about your eating and be eating quickly and feel guilty. However, if it is not an amount of food that is “definitely larger” than what most people would consider typical in a couple hours, it is most likely a subjective binge.

Diagnosing binge eating disorder

I hope this provided some more understanding of how to know if you have binge eating disorder. I know I said this before, but I want to repeat it again because it is so important, making a diagnosis does require a trained professional and ideally one that specializes in eating disorders or binge eating disorder. I know that knowledge is power, and so I wanted to share some information that therapists use in diagnosing binge eating disorder.

If you are confused at this point if you have binge eating disorder, that is completely ok. I don’t want you to worry because you don’t need to figure this out on your own. It is not your job to self-diagnose, you haven’t had the training in graduate school, so it makes sense why this would be hard. Diagnosing eating disorders is actually even challenging for many therapists who are not eating disorder therapists. Just this week I consulted with an incredibly qualified psychologist who was not sure if her patient meets criteria for binge eating disorder. It is also challenging for many physicians. I use to work with a team of physicians where I would be referred patients who they were unsure if the person had an eating disorder. For eating concerns, if you meet with a qualified eating disorder therapist, psychiatrist, or physician you will be able to determine what diagnosis you have.

Therapy for binge eating

Some people that I work with want to know if they have a diagnosis, while others prefer not to have a label to their eating patterns. You are always welcome to ask your treatment provider if you have a diagnosis and what that diagnosis is.

Regardless of your diagnosis or lack of diagnosis, it is very important to know that if you are unhappy with the way you are eating you are deserving of professional care and support. When it comes to therapy for binge eating it does not matter if you meet criteria for binge eating disorder, if you binge eat, or if you do not meet criteria for either. Therapy is an effective and research supported method for helping people change their relationship with food and feel better about their eating. Therapy is also an effective treatment for binge eating disorder. If you are struggling with your eating know that therapy is a great place to start.

If you would like to learn more about therapy for eating related concerns, the psychologists at Best Within You Therapy & Wellness are here to help. You are also welcome to schedule a free consultation or therapy appointment with a psychologist. Our psychologists provide eating disorder therapy and eating disorder treatment to patients online in over thirty states.