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Is binge eating (disorder) a food addiction?

66% of American adults are overweight or obese, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Binging is an extreme behavior related to food…but is it an addiction? We explore this taboo subject, and take a look at diagnostic limitations of binging here.

2
minute read

What is Binge-Eating Disorder?

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, about 1-5% of American binge eat. Binge-eating disorder is characterized by recurrent overeating episodes and loss of control over eating that is NOT followed by purging and can result in weight gain or obesity. People who binge eat also experience feelings of extreme distress or concern about body weight or shape, much like an alcoholic experiences regret after a night of binge drinking.

What are the signs of binge eating?

  • Eating in secret
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Feeling out of control over eating behavior.
  • Feeling ashamed or disgusted by over eating behavior.
  • Frequent, recurrent episodes (a pattern) of eating large quantities of food in a short period of time

How can binge eating be treated?

People who binge eat often experience co-existing psychological stresses, including anxiety, depression, and personality disorders. This is why doctors aim to treat underlying issues first. Cognitive behavioral therapy is frequently suggested to treat the underlying psychological issues associated with binge-eating, in an individual or group environment. Or medications such as antidepressants or appetite suppressants can be prescribed.

Is binge eating a food addiction?

In our opinion, YES! In fact, binging on food and binging on alcohol seem to be closely associated. In order to understand this, I suggest that you read Dr. William D. Silkworth’s “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book of A.A. … to see the similarity of the nature of cravings (for any substance) and the solution to such problems:

“On the other hand-and strange as this may seem to those who do not understand-once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for [substance], the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules.”

What troubles me is that binge-eating does not yet exist as a specific disorder within the DSM – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but is a serious problem for many people. I suggest that Binge eating is a disorder of eating more than you need NOT to satisfy hunger, but to meet and emotional, psychological and spiritual need for “fullness”. If you suspect that you or a loved one is in the grips of a food addiction, HELP IS AVAILABLE. Check in with a sensitive doctor, psychologist, or support group (like OA) … and get started towards recovery.

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About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.

17 Comments

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  1. Thanks for adding your contacts about FA! We hope you can join us on Addiction Blog and tell us more about your program as Contributors.

  2. Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA) is a free Twelve Step recovery program offering a solution for anyone suffering from any form of food addiction including overeating, bulimia, under-eating, or food obsession.

    FA has over 350 meetings throughout the United States in large and small cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Charlotte, Grand Rapids, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Austin, and Washington, D.C. Internationally, FA currently has groups in England, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Australia.

    If you would like more information about FA, please visit our website at www [dot] foodaddicts [dot] org.

  3. Thanks for posting this article. Dr Silkworth’s quote is entirely accurate, too. I’ve recently realized that I’m addicted to food and started blogging about it. The thing is that when I heard somebody describe what I was doing as an addictive behavior, it was like somebody flipped a switch inside of me. I took a pretty drastic turn, and I’ve lost almost 50 lbs in the last 50 days. (I know it sounds unhealthy, but no less healthy than being 225 lbs overweight.)

    My next step is to consult a nutritionist to learn what I should be eating and to learn how to make better decisions. Hopefully, this addiction is a thing of the past.

    Thanks again!

  4. I have found that eliminating certain foods in my diet has completely taken away the cravings I have for detrimental foods. After 54 years, I am amazed that I finally have control over what I eat. For all of you who feel so ashamed because of lack of self control, please give this a chance – eliminate gluten, dairy, sugars and caffeine and see how different you feel. You need to make sure you have sufficient nutrition but you will find that your cravings for sweets, chocolate, all those calorie-laden foods will be gone.

  5. Super article. In today’s world, we really need to throw off our bad diet habits. It’s not difficult. You only have to stick to a program and keep going until you reach your objectives.

    Thank you for sharing this with your readers.

  6. Hi H. You are not alone. Depending on where you live, help is available. Have you ever considered talking to a counselor about the pizza issue? Like Kun Fu Panda you are probably eating when you feel something inside you don’t like. I encourage you to start talking about it. Email me if you need some help with your zip code and Ill see what I can find in your area.

    Lee

  7. Food addiction is real, and it’s terrible. I’ve struggled with my weight for my entire life- I’m always going up and down, up and down. My particular Achilles heel is cheese- especially on pizza.

    If I’m well rested and not overly stressed then I’m O.K. But as soon as I miss an hour of sleep, or when the winter comes (hello SAD), I’m totally screwed. Last winter I gained 25 pounds… and that was good for me!

    I like smoking, drinking, and g@mb1ing… but I don’t NEED these things. I can go weeks or months without smoking a cigarette and not even realize it; but if I try and go two weeks without pizza I start going crazy. It becomes a real, palpable obsession. I wish I could eat cheese moderately, but I just can’t. If cheese is in the house, it’s as good as eaten. Last week I bought a mozzarella ball from the grocery store and it didn’t even survive the trip home- I ate it like an apple. Later in the week I bought a king size block of cheese and ate all of it, in one sitting, for dinner.

    Disgusting? Yea, probably… that’s like 1000-2000% my daily fat requirement in a single meal. But like I said, it’s a real problem for me. And it’s so bloody easy to order pizza these days- a few clicks and I’ll have one at my door in 25 minutes. And, of course, I have no restraint so I’ll inevitably eat the whole thing.

    I’m currently considering trying to replace my food addictions with cigarette addictions. Funny, I’m terrified of becoming addicted to nicotine (hence why I don’t smoke very often), but I’m totally addicted to something even simpler… Oh well, maybe it’s time to give lung cancer a try.

  8. This is interesting. You can rewire a survival circuit that was encoded early in
    childhood or during stress that created a chemically-driven link between
    survival and food. Break that link, so the drive to overeat fades. The
    method is the only treatment other than weight loss surgery that has shown
    lasting results.

  9. I need help, I constanly eat. I am on so much stress and I use for comfort. Please help me. How can I contact someone on this help.

  10. I always appreciate sites that I can go to and have conversation about addiction because I am the mother of two drug addicts (recovering). I set up a site called the addicition experience so that family stories can be shared but I am always looking for communities that have positive talk.

  11. Food addictions can sometimes lead to other addictions such as drugs. When people eat a lot they start to think they are over weight and want a fast solution for it. They will start taking diet pills and when they reach their weight they think they can just stop and sometimes that is not the case. Sometimes they end up in drug rehab to help them get off of the drug and become sober again.

  12. Thanks for the reminders, Todd. Karen, I was reading that almost one in every three people are obese in America. You are right on. Hydro, you are so right. Addiction is addiction is addiction.

  13. Doing drugs/drinking in secret
    Doing Drugs/Drinking when not wanting too
    Feeling out of control over drug/drinking behavior.
    Feeling ashamed or disgusted by drinking/drugging behavior.
    Frequent, recurrent episodes (a pattern) of doing large quantities of drugs/alcohol in a short period of time

    Just switch the words and it looks like binge eating is a addiction. Binge anything is the sign of addiction. Normal people don’t do large quinities of things to a point it causes a problem in there life

  14. My beleif is that most people who are overweight have some form of food addiction. Binge eating is just one way that this disease manifests. I was a binge eater but just did not know it until I began attending 12 step meetings for people with food addictions. Just like alcoholics, there are some that eat non-stop and others that binge. Food addiction is an epidemic in our country and although many people get caught up in the “weight loss” industry and spend hundreds and thousands of their hard earned dollars on trying to get themselves under control, so few end up in the rooms of recovery programs that work. Food addiction is a disease that manifests physically (through excess weight or too little weight on the body), emotionally (through depression, anxiety, low self esteem, etc) and spiritually (through hopelessness and brokeness). Thank you for bringing awareness forward about this terrrible disease that is killing so many through weight-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity .

  15. NO-ONE WILL LOSE WEIGHT UNLESS THEY WANT TO! Stop dieting; keep track of everything that you eat each day. Secret information will help you to get the body that you want. Each day keep your body properly hydrated with plain water and definitely limit your sodium intake. Keep mindless grazing to a minimum. Remember; eat to live, don’t live to eat! A daily regimen is needed by everyone and that regimen includes proper nourishment. Diets and diet aids do not help anyone!

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