Binge eating disorder is a serious mental health condition. Learn the signs and symptoms and when to seek help.

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For many people, overeating is a normal, common experience. You may overeat if you’re feeling bored or stressed. You may eat more, even if you’re full, during special occasions, such as on vacation or during a holiday like Thanksgiving.

But when can overeating become a concern or even a condition, like binge eating disorder (BED)?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

Having an extra serving of dessert on occasion does not mean you have BED. However, consistently eating large amounts of food while feeling out of control may indicate an underlying condition.

Binge eating disorder and overeating are two different things. Learning the difference can help you decide if you have a disorder.

How are they different?

Overeating is not the same as having BED. While overeating is an occasional experience that’s usually situational, BED is a more serious, frequent condition.

If you have BED, you compulsively overeat, meaning you eat to feel good, even if you aren’t hungry.

Compulsive overeating is sometimes used synonymously with binge eating disorder, though some experts see it as one defining feature of BED rather than the same as the condition.

Here are other things that separate BED from overeating:

  • You binge regularly, at least twice a week for six months.
  • You find your bingeing very upsetting. If you don’t have any feelings attached to your eating, it’s usually not binge eating disorder.
  • You don’t like to eat in public. While most people eat with friends and family, you routinely eat alone.
  • You don’t feel physiological cues such as hunger or fullness. You eat when you’re feeling angry or sad.

Signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder

It can be hard to tell if your overeating is a concern. Reflecting on your eating habits can help you determine if you may be experiencing BED. Ask yourself if any of the following statements are true for you:

  • Some days, even though I wanted to stop eating, I could not stop myself.
  • Some days I surprise myself with how much food I can eat in a short span of time.
  • I feel guilty after I realize how much food I have consumed.
  • It seems that every night I go to bed thinking, “Tomorrow, I am going to stop bingeing.”

If you said “yes” to most of these statements, it might be a sign that you have BED. If you think you have BED, consider talking with a doctor or therapist. Only a trained mental health professional can diagnose your condition.

Is overeating considered an eating disorder?

Occasional overeating is not considered an eating disorder. However, frequent or compulsive overeating, especially if you feel out of control during these times, is a main feature of BED. Overeating can also be a symptom of other eating disorders like bulimia nervosa.

If you think you have BED, consider asking for help. Even if you’re not sure how serious your symptoms are, a doctor can give your more information and offer support.

For many people, the first step in getting help is talking with a primary care doctor. They can refer you to a mental health professional specializing in eating disorders and can diagnose the condition. They can also suggest treatment options, such as therapy or medication.

One thing to keep in mind is that weight loss programs are considered the wrong approach when treating BED. If your doctor or therapist suggests you should try to lose weight, consider switching to a different healthcare professional who takes a “weight-neutral” or “health at every size” approach.

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. If you frequently overeat to cope and feel out of control, it’s a good idea to get help.

If you’re unsure about your symptoms, taking this quiz may help you determine if you may meet the criteria for an eating disorder.

While living with BED can be challenging, know that you’re not alone and that you can get better.