Binge eating disorder (BED) isn’t the same as overeating, and it’s not a personal choice. It’s a mental health condition and highly treatable.

If you experience repeated episodes of eating large amounts of food in one sitting, and you feel out of control of your eating and maybe even hide your behavior from others, you may have binge eating disorder (BED).

What’s important to keep in mind is that, though the disorder may cause you distress:

  • It’s not your fault.
  • It’s not a choice.
  • You’re not alone.

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder. Plus, it’s highly treatable, and you can recover and develop techniques for managing the condition if it returns.

Binge eating disorder is a condition in which people feel out of control of their eating and consume an objectively large amount of food in one sitting.

It wasn’t recognized as a psychiatric diagnosis until 2013, when the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published.

Having BED is not a choice. It’s a mental health condition that may have a strong genetic component.

Symptoms of binge eating disorder

Here are some of the most common symptoms of BED to help you determine whether you have it:

  • repeated episodes of binge eating — at least one episode of binge eating per week for at least 3 months
  • eating an objectively large amount of food in a given sitting
  • the feeling that you have no control and can’t stop eating
  • eating alone
  • eating fast
  • continuing to eat after you feel satisfied until you feel very full or ill
  • shame about how much food you eat
  • self-disgust, guilt, and depression may accompany an episode of binge eating

People with BED don’t purge, fast, or exercise excessively after a binge eating episode. These would be signs of bulimia nervosa, another eating disorder.

BED is also not the same as overeating. Overeating is similar to binge eating but without the loss of control. It often happens during special occasions, such as a birthday dinner.

The loss of control in BED is a major aspect associated with the feelings of distress and impairment you may experience if you have this condition.

Here are some key facts about BED, based on data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), including how many people have it and who’s more likely to get this disorder.

  • 1.2% of people in the United States are living with BED — that’s 3.9 million people.
  • 1.6% of women in the United States have BED.
  • 0.8% of men in the United States have BED.
  • The median age of onset is 21.
  • Females are more likely to develop BED earlier — ages 18–29, compared with ages 45–59 for males.
  • 2.8% of people experience BED at some point during their life.
  • 78.9% of people with BED also met the criteria for the diagnosis of other disorders, most notably anxiety disorders.
  • Females tend to seek treatment for BED more often than males.

You can’t determine whether someone has BED based on their appearance or weight. People of average body weight can have BED. Still, the disorder is most common in those with obesity or severe obesity.

Experts don’t know precisely what causes BED. However, researchers who study eating disorders have identified various influences, including environmental and genetic factors.

While some research indicates that children of parents with a history of certain psychiatric conditions may be more at risk of developing an eating disorder, the evidence does not suggest that parents’ behavior always causes eating disorders.

Instead, eating disorders appear to be strongly linked to the genes you were born with.

BED appears to run in families, and certain genes may put people at a higher risk of developing it.

People who are genetically predisposed to BED may also have had emotionally upsetting experiences around eating during childhood that contribute to the development of the condition. These could include being criticized about appearance, weight, or eating habits.

Let’s get one misconception out of the way

Stopping binge eating is not a question of willpower. BED is a mental health condition that requires medical and mental health care treatment.

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The first-line treatment if you have BED is a form of talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or family therapy.

Healthcare professionals may also recommend medications, such as antidepressants.

Because people with binge eating disorder often have other health conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, treatment for these co-occurring conditions may be needed.

What doesn’t work

Though media outlets, websites, and even some healthcare professionals may suggest weight loss as your No. 1 goal if you have BED, this approach can be harmful and may even worsen your condition.

When putting together your treatment team, consider searching for healthcare professionals who are “weight-neutral.”

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Many people with BED also have other psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety disorder.

A healthcare professional who specializes in the treatment of binge eating disorder can help you develop coping mechanisms. These can help you manage the thoughts and emotional triggers that might bring on a binge eating episode.

Here are a few more resources that might help:

If you think you have BED, it’s recommended to seek help from a healthcare professional right away.

Many people find a specialist in eating disorders as their first step. This person will have deep training and experience. They can help you find a treatment that’s a good fit for you.

If you want to find a treatment center in your area, you can check out this helpful tool.

NEDA Helpline

To get immediate help for yourself or a loved one who may be experiencing BED, consider contacting the NEDA Helpline.

This is a free service from the National Eating Disorders Association. You can text, call, or chat online with a trained volunteer.

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If you have binge eating disorder (BED), you may experience feelings of shame, especially after a binging episode.

However, keep in mind that BED is not a choice. It’s a mental health condition, and you can get help.

If you think you may have BED, a first step could be to contact a weight-neutral healthcare provider. They can help find the right treatment to start your recovery.

If possible, talk with a healthcare provider who specializes in eating disorders, such as a therapist or psychiatrist. You can also start by talking with a trusted family doctor.

If you’re unsure about whether you have BED or another eating disorder, consider taking this quiz.