Binge Eating Disorder vs. Bulimia

1000 caloryThe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health is the main tool for mental health professionals when diagnosing and treating patients with mental illness. The latest edition, known as DSM-V, included binge eating as a formal diagnosis, rather than its previous categorization as an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. A recent global study finds that binge eating shares many of the same long-range outcomes as the more well-known eating disorder bulimia. A study based on community-based surveys from a dozen countries conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that binge eating produces negative outcomes through the lifetime of an affected person in the same way as bulimia. The countries were Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, U.S. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by eating an excessive amount of food followed by purging behaviors like vomiting, laxative or diuretic use. The episodes of eating and purging occur time and time again as the person attempts to compensate for the calorie intake or weight gain associated with their overeating. Binge eating disorder also involves recurring episodes of out-of-control food consumption, minus the purging. Experts used to think that bulimia was more harmful over the long-term because of the additional negative behaviors involved, but the WHO study revealed that, in terms of a person’s ability to carry out daily responsibilities, there was little or no difference between the two disorders. To begin with, both disorders often go undetected by a doctor, which means that many cases remain untreated. Both disorders tend to first show up during adolescence. And people with both binge eating disorder and bulimia tend to experience more physical and mental illness as the disorders continue unchecked. Problems such as anxiety, depression, diabetes and musculoskeletal disorders are common additional struggles. In fact, according to WHO, having either bulimia or binge eating disorder makes it two to four times more likely that the person will miss work or not be able to perform normal daily duties. So while some of the profile characteristics of bulimia appear to be more extreme, the long-term outcomes for functioning are similar to those for binge eating. Binge eating disorder is roughly two times more common than bulimia, and it has some of its own long-term implications. For example, when binge eating starts early the disorder is linked to lower rates of marriage for women and lower rates of employment for men. Both women and men with binge eating disorder experience elevated rates of worker disability. The researchers say that binge eating disorder needed to be recognized as a separate disorder because it causes significant physical and psychological damage. When you consider all binge eating cases as a whole, the disorder represents a notable public cost, they say. The disorder is responsible for higher rates of depression and suicide as well as more missed days at the office. Clinical trials among student populations are needed to more fully reveal long-range health effects linked to binge eating and bulimia. It’s important to see how early interventions might affect long-term outcomes for both disorders. Though a recent addition to the list of diagnosable disorders, binge eating disorder is recognized as a serious condition, though one that too often goes unidentified. It’s diminishing the quality of life for people around the globe and is placing hidden stress on societies as a whole. These surveys show that it was high time the DSM defined the illness.

Scroll to Top