What is the History of Binge Eating Disorders as a Diagnosis?

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is “a severe, life-threatening and creatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress, or guilt afterwards: and not regularly using unhealthly compensatory measures to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.” Let’s dive in the history of Binge Eating Disorders.

History of Binge Eating Disorders (BEDs)

Dr. Albert Stunkard, a psychiatrist and pioneering researcher into the causes of obesity, first described the symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder. In 1959, in a seminal paper, Stunkard identified three patterns of eating in individuals with obesity, night eating, binge eating, and eating without satiation.

Albert Stunkard first described binge eating in a subset of obese patients and created the term “night eating snydrome”, or NES, which has similar qualities to but is distinct from BED.

Albert Stunkard defined binge eating as often having an orgiastic quality, enormous amounts of food being consumed in relatively short periods, associated with life stress, and followed by self-condemnation. He noted that binge-eating behavior did not necessarily follow any particular temporal pattern.

Over the years, before BED became an official diagnosis, researchers used a variety of terms related to individuals who binge without purging (one of the defining characteristics of BED), including “obese binge eaters,” “compulsive overeaters,” and “stuffing syndrome.” 3,4,5 Beginning with the publication of the DSM-III-R in 1987, individuals who experienced binge eating in the absence of purging were classified as having an “eating disorder not otherwise specified” (EDNOS). 6 BED was finally recognized as a distinct eating disorder in 2013 with the publication of the DSM-5. Some healthcare providers viewed EDNOS as a sort of waste basket category, and because BED was categorized this way, prior to 2013 insurance companies often did not cover treatment for it. In many cases, patients with BED may have experienced this situation as an invalidation of their suffering.

Today, there are mounting efforts to educate both medical professionals and the general public about Binge Eating Disorders (BED). With sufficient understanding about diagnosing and treating BED, healthcare providers can be instrumental in helping patients find their way to recovery. Meanwhile, given the right resources, treatment, and support, those with BED can overcome the disorder and go on to lead meaningful and productive lives.


Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt is a world-leading expert on treating eating disorders. With more than 20 years of clinical experience, Wendy has developed a unique treatment approach that delves into the underlying issues that place a person at risk for mental health conditions and eating disorders and lead to healing, health and inner peace. Wendy, Mental Health Speaker, Eating Disorder Educator, and Mental Health Advocate, currently delivers keynote speeches for leading organizations on topics such as eating disorders, treating serious mental health issues, and healthful approaches to weight concerns. Contact Wendy for your next keynote!


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