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Binge Eating Disorder

An Overview of Symptoms & Treatments of Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms and Treatment

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Binge eating disorder is twice as common among women than men and is characterized by episodes of binge eating — eating an amount of food that is larger than what most people would eat, and a sense of lacking any control over eating during the episode. People who engage in binge eating are uncomfortable and distressed by their behavior. For most people who binge eat, they do so at least once a week and usually tend to try and hide their behavior from others.

Binge eating disorder is one of three primary types of eating disorders. The other two are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

People with binge eating disorder feel both emotionally and physically out of control of their eating. Consequently, remorse and emotional anguish are common. Unlike the patient with bulimia, the binge eater does not compensate after a binge by overexercising, vomiting or fasting.

Treatment of binge eating disorder (BED) nearly always involves some type of psychotherapy, as well as medication. Some medications have been found to be especially helpful with certain eating disorders. If you believe you may be suffering from an eating disorder or know someone who is, please get help. Once properly diagnosed by a mental health professional, such disorders are readily treatable and often cured within a few months’ time.

A person with an eating disorder should not be blamed for having it. The disorder is caused by a complex interaction of social, biological, and psychological factors which bring about the harmful behaviors. The important thing is to stop as soon as you recognize these behaviors in yourself, or to get help to begin the road to recovery.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder typically involves repeated episodes of binge eating and eating more in a given amount of time than other people would eat during that same period of time. A person with BED feels as if they can’t stop eating, no matter what they do. They often end up eating alone because they are ashamed about how much food they eat. Feelings of being disgusted with themselves, guilt, and even depression accompany each over-eating episode.

During an episode of binge eating, a person typically eats faster than they would normally eat, eating until they feel very full or even ill, and eating even after they are satisfied.

Learn more: Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Learn more: Overeating vs. Binge Eating

Statistics & Who Gets It?

Nearly 2 percent of the American population has binge eating disorder. That would mean as many as five million Americans could suffer from binge eating disorder at any one time.

As many as 30 percent of the people with obesity who are seeking help for their weight may be suffering from binge eating disorder. Seven in ten people at Overeaters Anonymous are thought to be binge eaters. Untreated binge eating may be the reason that many people are unsuccessful in their attempts to lose weight or maintain weight loss.

Men and women are binge eaters in nearly equal numbers. There are about three female binge eaters for every two male binge eaters.

Symptoms of binge eating disorder generally begin when someone is in their 20s, but most people will put off treatment until their 30s.

Binge eating disorder appears to affect whites in equal numbers as non-whites, and affluent people as well as middle-class people. It has not been well studied among lower socioeconomic groups.

In a typical binge eating, a person can eat several thousand calories in one sitting. The foods are generally low protein, high fat and high carbohydrate. Binge eaters will describe eating last night’s leftovers as well as slices of cakes, cookies, chips and even raw cake batter! Imagine doing that a few times a week. All that food adds up to several pounds of unhealthy weight each month.

Learn more: Complications of Binge Eating

Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

Scientists don’t know what specifically causes binge eating disorder. It appears to occur in most industrialized nations at similar frequencies (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). While it appears to run in families, it’s not clear whether that’s due to a genetic heritability factor, or parenting skills that pass down dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors around eating, food, and self-image.

Learn more: Binge Eating Disorder Causes

Treatment of Binge Eating Disorder

Life satisfaction and social relationships often suffer due to this disorder. People who engage in the behaviors associated with this condition are at greater risk for health problems and developing obesity (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

The good news is that binge eating disorder can be successfully treated. Like in the treatment of all eating disorders, finding the right treatment that works for a person can sometimes take time through trial and error, because each person is unique and comes from a different background. Treatment methods tend toward a type of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or family therapy. Medications may also be prescribed to help with the symptoms, and some people try a residential treatment facility to break the bad habits and patterns of behavior commonplace among people with this disorder.

Learn more: Treatment of Binge Eating Disorder

Living With & Managing Binge Eating Disorder

Weightless: A blog about body image

Many people who suffer from this condition also battle an additional psychiatric concern, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or an anxiety disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). This can present additional challenges in learning to live with and manage the thoughts and behaviors associated with binge eating.

Getting Help

You can beat binge eating disorder — it’s entirely within your grasp to do so. It requires a commitment to change and patience with any treatment you start. While many people start their treatment journey with a visit to their family physician or general practitioner, others feel uncomfortable having this type of conversation with a medical doctor. A specialist in eating disorders is often the preferred first step, because that type of mental health professional — whether it be a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker — has deep training and experience with these conditions.

Some people prefer to read up more and become educated about their condition. We have a library of eating disorder articles as well as our peer-led binge eating online support group, with caring, supportive people who are struggling with this same condition.

Take action: Find a local treatment provider or browse Treatment Centers


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder, Editor-in-Chief & CEO of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues -- as well as the intersection of technology and human behavior -- since 1992. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member and treasurer of the Society for Participatory Medicine. He writes regularly and extensively on mental health concerns, the intersection of technology and psychology, and advocating for greater acceptance of the importance and value of mental health in today's society. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2016). Binge Eating Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/eating-disorders/binge-eating/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Aug 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Aug 2016
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.