Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating means
eating larger amounts of food than most people would in a similar situation, in a short period of time. A person with this eating
disorder binge eats regularly for several months. When you binge eat, you may feel like you
can't control your eating, and you may you feel unhappy about it afterward.
Binge eating disorder is not the same thing as
bulimia. Unlike bulimia, if you have binge eating
disorder, you don't vomit or try other ways to get rid of calories. But you
might try to limit how much food you eat between eating binges. Binge eating disorder
is sometimes called compulsive overeating.
Some people who binge eat
have a normal weight. But over time, many people who have binge eating disorder
gain weight and have problems from being
obese. People with binge eating disorder also often
anxiety, or other emotional problems.
eating disorder isn't a sign of weakness or a
character flaw. And it is not something you can overcome with just willpower.
Many people struggle with eating disorders for a long time. Some people try to
keep it a secret or deny that they have a problem. In most cases, you will need
treatment to get better. If you have binge eating disorder, treatment can
prevent health problems, help you feel better about yourself, and improve the
quality of your life.
not sure what causes binge eating disorder, but it seems to run in families.
Cultural attitudes about body shape and weight might also play a
role. Anxiety, depression, or
stress can cause some people to binge eat.
From time to time, most of
us feel like we have eaten more than we should. But eating too much every now
and then does not mean that you have binge eating disorder. If you have binge
eating disorder, you may:
Even if you don't have all the symptoms of binge eating
disorder, having even a few symptoms can be a sign of a problem that needs
treatment. It is important to get help right away if you or someone you know
has any of these symptoms.
can find out if you have binge eating disorder by asking questions about your eating habits and past health. Your doctor may also
ask questions about your mental health and how you feel about food and the
shape of your body. If you are overweight, your doctor may also do a physical exam to rule out problems caused by obesity.
Treatment for binge eating
disorder includes getting
counseling and taking medicine. You may need treatment for a
long time to fully recover. You also may need treatment for other problems that
often occur with binge eating disorder. These can include bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, obesity,
or problems with being overweight.
disorder most often starts in the late teens or the young-adult years, but it can begin in later adulthood too. It is
more common in women than men.
Binge eating disorder can be triggered by
dieting, depression, or anxiety. It can even start because of boredom or
stress, which is then relieved by binging. Your risk for binge eating increases
Learning about binge eating disorder:
If you have
binge eating disorder, you:
If you have binge eating disorder, you also have three (or
more) of the following symptoms:
Common personality traits found in those who have binge
eating disorder and other
eating disorders include low self-esteem and excessive concern about body
size and shape.
Binge eating disorder is different from
bulimia, because people with binge eating disorder do
not regularly vomit or use other ways to get rid of calories. For more
information on bulimia, see the
Some people eat very
little during the day but eat very large amounts of food in the evening and at
night. This is called
night eating syndrome.
Many people who
have an eating disorder also struggle with depression or
anxiety disorders. It can be difficult to treat binge
eating disorder if these other conditions are not also treated.
Frequent binge eating can cause you to gain a large amount of weight, even
though you might try to restrict your food intake between binges. People with
binge eating disorder often try to follow strict diets. But dieting does not
stop binge eating in the long term and might actually make the problem worse.
You might feel so discouraged at times that you stop trying to
control your eating disorder altogether. One binge might merge into the next,
with no period of normal eating in between.
Although you might not
have all of the symptoms of binge eating disorder, even a few symptoms can be a
sign of a problem that needs treatment. If you have any of these symptoms, or
someone you know does, talk to a doctor, friend, or family member
about your concerns right away.
binge eating disorder by asking questions about your
medical history and eating habits. Your doctor also
might do a
mental health assessment, which is an evaluation of
your emotions and how well you think, reason, and remember. If you are overweight, your doctor may also do a physical exam to rule out problems caused by obesity.
Binge eating disorder often is associated with being overweight. Your doctor
might use a tool called the
body mass index (BMI) to look at how much you weigh
compared with your height.
binge eating disorder includes counseling and
medicine. Goals in treating binge eating often include:
Most people with binge eating disorder need treatment, but
many people who have an
eating disorder try to keep it secret or deny that
they have a problem. Some might join weight management programs to lose weight
but do not seek treatment for binge eating or for mental health problems related to
the condition. It often is a family member or friend who convinces the person
to seek treatment.
If you think that you or someone you know
might have an eating disorder, talk to your doctor. Signs of an eating disorder
that needs treatment include binge eating, concern or embarrassment about eating
behaviors, secretive eating habits, preoccupation with weight or body image, or
an unhealthy body weight because of eating problems.
Several types of
counseling can be useful in treating eating disorders.
Medicines can be used to reduce the urge to binge eat. Examples include:
Medicines and counseling may help
you quit binge eating and lose excess weight. But this will take some time and
patience. Some people find that they still have trouble losing excess weight,
even after they stop binge eating. Talk to your doctor about what results are
realistic to expect from treatment.
Unfortunately, many people don't seek treatment for mental health
problems. You may not seek treatment because you are embarrassed about your eating, you think the symptoms are not bad
enough, or that you can work things out on your own. But getting treatment is
If you need help deciding whether to see your doctor,
read about some reasons why people don't get help and how to
Continuing healthy habits at home can
binge eating disorder.
It is helpful when family members are
supportive of their loved one who has binge eating
disorder. Learning about the disorder will be useful for the entire family.
In many cases, eating disorders are associated with poor body
image and low self-esteem. Parents can help reduce the chances that their
children will develop an
eating disorder by teaching them to have:
For more information, see the topic
Healthy Eating for Children.
Other treatments can help reduce binge eating.
These are organized programs that provide self-help materials such as manuals
or computer-based activities that can be useful in treating eating disorders.
But most people who have an eating disorder also need counseling and possibly
Stress management techniques.
Many people report that their binging episodes are triggered by feelings of
anxiety or tension. Although not part of the treatment
of binge eating disorder, relieving stress can help during recovery and can
improve quality of life. Techniques to reduce stress include:
For more information on stress reduction, see the topic
Agras WS (2008). The eating disorders. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds., ACP Medicine, section 13, chap. 9. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
Other Works Consulted
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Feeding and eating disorders. In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed., pp. 329-354. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Anderson AE, Yager J (2009). Eating disorders. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 2128-2149. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Brownley KA, et al. (2016). Binge-eating disorder in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, published online June 28, 2016. DOI: 10.7326/M15-2455. Accessed August 26, 2016.
Gwirtsman HE, et al., (2008). Eating disorders. In MH Ebert et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Psychiatry, 2nd ed., pp. 456-469. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hay PPJ, et al. (2009). Psychological treatments for bulimia nervosa and binging. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4).
National Eating Disorders Association (accessed April 2013). Binge eating disorder. Available online: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/binge-eating-disorder.
National Eating Disorders Association (accessed April 2013). General information about EDs. Available online: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/general-information.
Palmer CA, Boyd LD (2009). Nutrition, diet, and associated oral conditions. In NO Harris et al., eds., Primary Preventative Dentistry, 7th ed., pp. 305-314. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Sadock BJ, Sadock VA (2010). Eating disorders. In Kaplan and Sadock's Pocket Handbook of Clinical Psychiatry, 5th ed., pp. 259-268. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Yager J, et al. (August 2012). Guideline Watch: Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Eating Disorders, 3rd ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association. Also available online: http://psychiatryonline.org/content.aspx?bookid=28§ionid=39113853.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerW. Stewart Agras, MD, FRCPC - Psychiatry
Current as ofMay 3, 2017
Current as of:
May 3, 2017
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & W. Stewart Agras, MD, FRCPC - Psychiatry
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