Binge Eating Disorder and Diabetes (Part 1)

If you’re a regular reader of Diabetes Self-Management E-News, you’re probably familiar with the surveys that are featured in the newsletter. Maybe you’ve even participated in a few. Back in the fall, a survey was posted regarding "bad habits." Out of 130 responses, 50% of people responded that the bad habit they most wanted to tackle was binge eating. That’s a pretty high percentage. Hopefully, we’ll see this number drop during 2008!


In the spirit of the new year, new beginnings, and new habits, I thought I’d delve a little deeper into binge eating, or, as it’s more accurately termed, “binge eating disorder.” Binge eating disorder (BED) is defined as eating an excessively large amount of food over a two-hour period without being able to stop. Now, I don’t want to imply that munching on a bowl of chips during the Patriots game or polishing off half a bag of M&M’s in one go constitutes binge eating disorder. But because BED may be somewhat common in people with Type 2 diabetes, I thought that it would be a topic worth exploring a little further.

Here are some interesting facts about BED from a study published last year in the journal Biological Psychiatry:

  • 40% of binge eaters are men, although women are twice as likely as men to have eating disorders.
  • BED is strongly linked with obesity, which, in turn can lead to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
  • Almost 80% of people with BED meet the criteria for another psychiatric disorder.
  • Less than half of those with BED seek treatment.

The authors of this particular study noted that BED is a major health problem, yet physicians are not as aware of it as, say, anorexia or bulimia. This is due, in part, to the fact that those who suffer from BED tend to not display physical signs, other than maybe being overweight or obese.

What are the signs and symptoms of BED? If you’re wondering if you might have BED, ask yourself if you find yourself:

  • Eating much more food during a binge episode than during a typical meal or snack
  • Eating faster than usual
  • Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable or being in pain
  • Feeling that this eating behavior is out of control
  • Frequent episodes of binge eating
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, or upset over the amount of food eaten
  • Hiding or hoarding food
  • Feeling depressed or anxious in general
  • Feeling unhappy about your body weight, shape, and/or physical appearance

Many people with BED are overweight or obese, but not all. Some mental health experts speculate that because those with BED tend not to try and purge themselves of the excess food they’ve just eaten (as those with bulimia do), perhaps BED is really a type of obesity disorder, rather than an eating disorder. Others question whether BED is even really a type of disorder or condition, as opposed to a clustering of symptoms.

Despite the lack of consensus on whether it’s truly an eating disorder or not, the fact remains that about 2% of American adults (about 4 million) have BED. Furthermore, between 10% and 15% of people who are trying to lose weight either on their own or with the help of a commercial weight-loss program have BED. And BED is just as common among African-Americans as it is among whites.

Next week, we’ll look at possible causes of BED, why it may be more common in people with diabetes, and treatment options.

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  • Belle

    I have known for sometime that I have BED. I have even told my doctor. I live alone and most of my eating is done at night. I have type II diabetes and as you can guess it is not under control. I am very interested in hearing from others on this behavior.

  • Linda Stanley

    Binge eating to me really can become a sickness in its self.I have type 2 diabetes and crave foods such as sweets.I wake up in the middle of the night and raid the choc.candy box which my husbands keeps for himself.I gulp and swallow the candy as fast as I can.
    There are times I eat for hours until my stomach hurts.Then I have sugar readings of 240-260,and pray they go down to normal.Its like falling off the wagon and getting climbing back on again.Again and again.I get scared at knowing what diabetic complications can do,but yet I still go on these binges.I need help.

  • Lulu

    So what’s the other psychiatric disorder?

  • acampbell

    Hi Lulu,

    BED is actually linked with several psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and low self-worth.

  • acampbell

    Hi Linda,

    Can you talk with your physician or another trusted healthcare provider with whom you have a trusting relationship? He or she should be able to refer you to a mental health professional, particularly one who has experience in BED, who can then help you select the best treatment option(s) for you. You can also contact the National Eating Disorders Associaton at or at

  • nanny378

    I just read this article and its sound like something I would have. I overeat and sneak food all the time. I eat till I’m stuffed and very uncomfortable. I also have diabetes and thyroid problems. Can anyone relate to this.

    Winona, 1/11/08

  • acampbell

    Hi Winona,

    I know that many people can likely relate to your eating habits. I can only encourage you, as I suggested to Linda, to talk to a healthcare professional or contact the National Eating Disorders Association for guidance on how to best seek treatment.

  • Sunshine

    Hi, I have type 2 diabetes…which is pretty much under control. I do not binge eat but I do have cravings for sweet and salty foods that I satisfy but then feel guilty for eating the foods that I know I shouldn’t. I realize that I hide these foods from my husband so he won’t get mad at me for eating them. What can I do? Usually I crave, chocolate, peanut butter, nuts and sometimes ice cream.

  • 75Janice

    I am waiting to see an eating disorders specialist. The line between eating more for pleasure (which some people find fault with) and bingeing does not seem clear. I do not “binge” in my opinion. Yet I do love sweet things and cannot follow an OA food plan. What are the boundaries?

  • acampbell

    Hi 75Janice,

    It may be helpful to ask yourself the questions that I outlined in the article. If your eating is triggered by emotions, or if you feel like you can’t control your eating, for example, you may be more prone to BED. The eating disorders specialist will be able to assess you and answer your questions. Also, it’s okay to occasionally include sweet foods into your eating plan, and you don’t necessarily need to follow an OA plan. A dietitian should be able to develop a meal plan that works for you.

  • acampbell

    Hi Sunshine,

    Rest assured that it’s completely normal for anyone to have food cravings now and then. Sometimes cravings appear when people are diagnosed with diabetes and are following a meal plan for the first time. Cravings can be linked with emotions. Hopefully you’ve met with a dietitian and are following a meal plan that allows you to fit in those favorite foods. Being told to avoid certain foods altogether is pretty much a guarantee that you’ll start craving those “forbidden” foods. I’d suggest you talk to your dietitian or your health-care provider about your concerns, and bring your husband with you! You shouldn’t feel like you need to hide foods from him – he can benefit from learning that all foods can fit into a healthy eating plan.

  • MJ

    It is scary to watch a loved one do this.

  • claudia york

    Hey! i am very glad I found this wed site. I have suffered from BED for many years and have just been diagnosed with diabetes and Fatty Liver disease. i feel devasted that besides years of guilt and low self steem, now I am responsible for being sicker, even sicker. How responsible am I? I want to take respponsability for my actions, but need to be fair to myslef because I can’t stand any more self-abusive treatment…
    just putting my experince out there… thank you

  • acampbell

    Hi claudia,

    Glad you found the site! Understandably it’s upsetting to find out about yet two more conditions. But it may help you to realize that there is no one cause of either Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease. There are so many possible factors, including family history and environmental factors, so you should take heart and not blame yourself. Here’s the good news: Your treatment for Type 2 diabetes will help your fatty liver. Eating healthy foods and staying active are good for so many things and these are things that you have control over. You may need medicine for your diabetes but in no way is that a bad thing. Many of my diabetes patients used to tell me that they were actually healthier after getting diagnosed with diabetes because they finally felt they had a reason to take better care of themselves. Try to view all of this in a positive light! And don’t try to do it alone. Make sure you have a health-care team that includes your doctor, a dietitian, a nurse educator, and a social worker or psychologist to support you.

  • Judy Prescott

    I seem to have all the above symtoms. One thing I havent heard is that I find my insulin trigers my binge eating. especially when I take both my long term and short term shots one before dinner and one at 8pm. I also seem to be able to make this binging much more controlable, if I stop taking insulin. Which is not a good idea because my readings go up to 300 – 450 with out the insulin and also with binges. I feel like I am in a catch 22.
    Judy P.

  • acampbell

    Hi Judy,

    Is there a possibility that low blood glucose levels are triggering your binging? If you haven’t done so already, please seek help for your binge eating, as well as your diabetes. Consider working with a dietitian, and ask your provider for a referral to a mental health provider who specializes or at least has familiarity with eating disorders. If you can’t find anyone, contact the National Eating Disorders Association at (800) 931-2237 for a referral.

  • Cathy Steele

    Very informative site – thank you!!!

    I suffer from depression, diabetes (on Insulin 4X/day) and binge eat. I am now having major complications from the diabetes – macular edems (bleeding in the back of your eyes) – and after treatment of laser and injection of medication into my right eye, I am loosing the vision in my right eye; and experience other medical issues. I have been instructed on carb counting with a potential binge..

    I haven’t always had the best experience with the health care system (mental health) in treating the Insulin Dependant Diabetes (IDDM) and depression or the eating disorder. Frightening!!!!; I am a health care profession.

    I am looking for assistance in finding an inpatient/residential treatment program knowledgeable in all of these areas.

    I am from Canada and am willing to “go anywhere” to get well. The Renfrew Centre is already on OHIP’s (medical health care provider) list.

    I look forward to your reply.
    PLEASE help!!!

  • acampbell

    Hi Cathy,

    You might find the following Web site helpful:

    Also, contact the National Eating Disorders Association at (800) 931-2237. Their Web site URL is I’m not familiar with programs that are available in Canada, but they may be able to provide you with information for a program that’s closer to your home.