Binge eating disorder (BED) is a complex but treatable condition. We’re here to answer your questions about BED.

In a world obsessed with body size and appearance, society’s idealization of thinness promotes and sustains eating disorders.

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the latest form of eating disorder to be formally and clinically recognized. It’s more than a Super Bowl buffet splurge or a holiday bender.

Though living with this condition can be challenging and is often connected to feelings of guilt and shame, know that you’re not alone and that BED is highly treatable.

Educating yourself and others about BED, its symptoms, causes, and treatment options, can be a first step toward finding help and getting better.

A: When you have BED, you regularly experience binge eating episodes during which you eat an objectively large amount of food in a relatively short time period, and you feel as if you can’t control your behavior.

This is different from overeating, which most people experience once in a while, such as during special occasions like birthday parties or holidays.

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A: According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the lifetime prevalence of BED is 2.8%, with 21 years old as the median age of onset. Approximately 60% of those with binge eating disorder are women.

The condition is more commonly seen in women, people with obesity, and those with a psychiatric disorder, such as a phobia, social anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Though BED can occur in people of average body weight, it’s more common in people with obesity, particularly severe obesity. It’s important to note, however, that most people with obesity don’t have binge eating disorder.

A: Many risk factors are thought to contribute to binge eating disorder, including:

  • genetics
  • brain changes
  • gender
  • psychological factors
  • body size
  • body image
  • emotional trauma

Painful childhood experiences, including family problems and negative comments about one’s shape, weight, or eating, also are associated with the causes of BED.

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A: You may have BED if you:

  • regularly eat an objectively large amount of food in a finite period of time
  • feel as if you cannot control your behavior
  • eat until you feel uncomfortably full
  • eat even when you’re not hungry
  • eat very quickly
  • feel guilty or depressed after a bingeing episode
  • eat by yourself because you feel embarrassed about how much food you’re consuming

For your doctor to diagnose binge eating disorder, bingeing episodes must occur at least once a week for 3 months.

A: BED may lead to weight gain and health problems related to obesity. Increased weight and obesity are associated with many health problems, including:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • certain types of cancer

Some people with BED also have problems with their digestive system or experience joint and muscle pain.

A: Similar to people with BED, people who have bulimia nervosa also experience binge eating episodes.

However, people with bulimia nervosa try to prevent weight gain after binge eating through compensatory measures such as:

  • vomiting
  • using laxatives or diuretics
  • fasting
  • exercising excessively

People with BED generally don’t use compensatory measures following a bingeing episode.

A: Treatment for BED typically includes:

BED treatment should not be about weight loss or management. This approach can:

  • worsen symptoms
  • further damage your relationship with food
  • increase feelings of shame

Try to find “weight neutral” healthcare professionals to help you in your journey.

A: Research indicates that self-help strategies may offer some marginal improvements, but BED usually requires treatment by a professional. Self-help strategies are usually more effective if you have a trusted treatment team by your side.

A: Beginning treatment as soon as symptoms emerge is helpful. Not every instance of BED can be prevented, but an awareness of the early stages of the eating disorder may contribute to successful treatment.

Also, encouraging healthy behaviors and eating habits and realistic attitudes about food and body image may help prevent the development or worsening of eating disorders.

A: The ideal treatment team for BED includes weight-neutral healthcare professionals who specialize in eating disorders, such as:

  • a trusted physician
  • a therapist, psychiatrist, or both
  • a dietitian

However, if you’re not ready to speak with a professional yet or are seeking additional resources, you can find support from organizations like the:

A: Because food is such an integral facet of daily living, eating disorders are challenging to manage. Friends and family are vital in supporting a person with BED and guiding them toward identifying symptoms and changing their behaviors.

Take solace knowing that many in recovery from an eating disorder cite a friend or family member as the catalyst to receiving care and achieving wellness. Consider these tips in becoming an advocate to a friend or loved one:

  • Learn all you can about the disorder. By learning about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options, you can become a knowledgeable ally and help dispel myths and inaccuracies.
  • Gather your thoughts beforehand. To lessen pre-meeting worries and simplify your approach, consider writing down your talking points before the meeting. This may also allow you to calmly stick to the facts during your talk.
  • Ensure the time and place are right. You’re more likely to have a productive conversation when you can talk in a quiet setting where you have privacy and don’t feel hurried.
  • Use “I” rather than “you” statements. Keep the conversation rooted in what you’ve personally observed, such as “I’ve noticed you seem to be eating very quickly and more than usual.” Using “you” statements like, “Your eating is out of control” can sound critical and cause the person to become defensive or shut down.
  • Don’t talk about diet or weight loss. Suggesting weight loss as a solution can exacerbate the problem. Plus, hearing you talk about your own weight loss plans may be triggering and worsen disordered eating behaviors for some people.
  • Listen with intent. Concentrate on actively listening to your friend or loved one. While you may want a chance to talk about your own thoughts, feelings, and worries, they deserve the same opportunity.
  • Never try to scare them into compliance. You may want your friend or loved one to accept help for their condition, but scare tactics, guilt, or threats to end the relationship may accomplish the opposite.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help. For most people living with BED, getting professional help greatly increases their chances for recovery. Offer empathetic assistance in locating a relevant physician or therapist, and ask if you can attend a support group or appointment with them.

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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Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. It’s a challenging but highly treatable condition.

If you or a loved one live with BED, consider checking out some of the resources in this article to take the first step toward recovery.

If you’re unsure whether you have BED or a different eating disorder, taking this eating disorder quiz may provide some guidance.