Binge eating disorder (BED) has several key symptoms, including regular episodes of uncontrolled eating and resulting feelings of distress.
Many people overeat, particularly on special occasions like a holiday dinner. However, if you have BED, you feel out of control — like you can’t stop eating — when you’re experiencing a binge eating episode.
These bingeing episodes may cause feelings of shame and distress, but it’s important to remember that if you have BED, you’re not alone.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 1.2% of people in the United States have BED — that’s 3.9 million people. About 1.6% of females and 0.8% of males are living with this condition.
If you have BED, you may have the following symptoms, which are based on the
Repeated binge eating episodes
An episode of binge eating has these two basic characteristics:
- Large amount. You eat an amount of food within a particular time period that is larger than what most people would eat in a similar period. The specific type of food doesn’t matter, but it’s often high in carbs or fat.
- Loss of control. You feel a lack of control over your eating during the episode, like you can’t stop or control how much you eat.
Three or more of these symptoms
To be diagnosed with BED, you would have at least three of the following symptoms:
- You eat much more rapidly than usual.
- You eat until you feel uncomfortably full.
- You consume large amounts of food even when you’re not feeling hungry.
- You eat alone because you feel embarrassed by how much you’re eating. Some people attempt to conceal their symptoms.
- You feel disgusted with yourself, depressed, or very guilty after the binge.
You’re distressed about binge eating
Another sign of BED is if your binge eating episodes cause you to feel extremely distressed.
This could mean berating yourself over a recent binge eating episode or worrying how it may negatively affect your body.
Frequent, recurring binge eating
If you have BED, you also experience recurring episodes of binge eating that occur about once a week or more for at least 3 months.
No compensatory behavior
Compensatory behaviors are any action a person takes to reverse the effects of their behavior.
In the context of eating disorders, compensatory behaviors may include:
- vomiting on purpose (purging)
- exercising excessively
- using laxatives
People with BED don’t tend to engage in these compensatory behaviors after a bingeing episode, but they can be a sign of bulimia nervosa.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of BED, consider talking with a healthcare professional right away.
If you feel comfortable, you may start by talking with your family doctor, who may be able to refer you to a doctor or therapist who specializes in eating disorders.
One thing to keep in mind is that weight loss programs are generally the wrong approach when it comes to BED, despite media outlets and even many healthcare professionals suggesting the contrary.
If you speak with a healthcare professional who seems to want to focus on weight loss as a BED solution, consider switching to a different doctor or therapist who takes a “weight-neutral” approach.
The first-line treatment for BED is usually a form of talk therapy, such as:
- cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)
- dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
Your treatment team may also prescribe medications, such as antidepressants.
Consider asking your healthcare professional to connect you with a local eating disorders support group for additional support.
If you think someone you care about has BED, here are some ways you can help.
- Bring up your concerns with the person in a nonjudgmental way.
- Encourage them to seek help from a healthcare professional who specializes in eating disorders. A trusted family doctor works, too.
- Recognize that your loved one has a mental health condition and that BED is not a choice.
- Acknowledge that the person may feel shame and disgust about their binge eating, and the topic may be sensitive for them.
- Avoid talking about dieting or making negative comments about people’s appearance or eating habits, including your own.
- Help the person seek help for other mental health issues that may be contributing to BED, such as depression or anxiety.
- The person may find certain foods triggering. If you know what these are, avoid them when you’re with the person.
- Involve the person in social activities that are not centered around food.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder in which people binge eat large amounts of food on a regular basis.
People with BED feel they can’t control their eating in these episodes, and they often feel shame, guilt, and disgust in themselves afterward.
If you think you have BED, consider making an appointment with a healthcare professional. If you can, talk with someone who specializes in eating disorders and who takes a weight-neutral approach. However, many people begin by talking with a trusted family doctor — and that’s, of course, OK, too.
If you think someone you care about has BED, you can help them by encouraging them to talk about it and seek treatment.
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.