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Binge Eating Disorder: Identifying Symptoms, Getting Treatment, and More

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

It’s normal to overeat from time to time. We all do it. But if you frequently feel compelled to consume large quantities of food to the point of feeling ill, it may be a sign that you have binge eating disorder. It’s a serious illness that can affect your health and negatively impact your quality of life.

It’s easy to confuse binge eating disorder with anorexia nervosa or bulimia, but they are all distinct conditions. People with anorexia eat very little and do everything they can to lose weight, including excessive exercise, vomiting, or using laxatives and other substances. Bulimia is a condition that causes people to binge and then purge. They eat large amounts of food and then induce vomiting or use laxatives to get rid of it. Binge eating disorder is more common, and it doesn’t involve any form of purging.

Binge eating disorder affects about 1 to 5 percent of people, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Out of this group, 60 percent are female.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), binge eating disorder affects African-American, Hispanic, and Caucasian women at about the same rate. It appears in all age groups and at every income level.

The cause of binge eating disorder isn’t always clear. It may be a combination of genetic predisposition, psychological issues, and cultural pressures.

Signs and Symptoms

Weight gain may be a sign of binge eating disorder, but not always. Weight gain can occur for many reasons, and not all binge eaters are overweight.

If you can’t wait to get behind closed doors so you can eat great amounts of food in secret, you may have binge eating disorder. A binge is often followed by feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. Despite not wanting to do it again, the compulsion to binge returns. It is not unusual for people with binge eating disorder to also struggle with low self-esteem or symptoms of depression.

Symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • eating a lot of food, even when you’re not hungry
  • frequently eating until you’re overstuffed
  • eating a lot of food very quickly
  • binging in secret or lying about your food habits
  • binging when you feel stressed
  • stashing food away for later
  • feeling out of control when it comes to eating
  • anxiety, depression
  • guilt, shame, and embarrassment after binging
  • withdrawal from social situations, isolation
  • weight gain followed by repeated attempts to diet (yo-yo dieting)
  • powerful cravings and irresistible urge to eat particular foods
  • continuing cycle of binging and trying to gain control over eating
  • rearranging your life around binges

If your child’s bedroom has a secret stash of food or lots of empty food wrappers and containers, it may be a sign of binge eating disorder. Children may also develop an irregular eating pattern, skipping meals and scarfing down food at unusual times.

If you have binge eating disorder, you may feel physically tired and have trouble sleeping. Binges may cause a general feeling of ill health. You may experience bloating, constipation, or other digestive problems. Joint and muscle pain, menstrual problems, and headaches are common.

When to See a Doctor

If you have signs of binge eating disorder, make an appointment to see your primary care doctor or therapist. Frequent binging can lead to weight gain and obesity. You may be at increased risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. That can make you more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

If you’re concerned about someone else who seems to have binge eating disorder, talk to them and offer your support.

According to ANAD, a diagnosis of binge eating disorder requires the following:

  • loss of control over how much you eat
  • distress after binging
  • binging at least once a week for at least three months

In addition, you must have experienced three or more of these symptoms:

  • eating faster than is normal
  • frequently eating until you’re too full
  • consuming large quantities of food even when you’re not hungry
  • eating alone so others don’t see how much you eat
  • feelings of disgust, guilt, or depression after binging


The good news is that binge eating disorder is treatable. If you have health issues relating to binging or to being overweight, medical treatment can help you manage those conditions. Antidepressant medications are sometimes prescribed for binge eaters who also suffer from depression. An eating disorder specialist can help you identify stress factors that make you binge and help you create coping strategies. Self-help programs and support groups help many people gain control over the disorder.

Fortunately, most people respond well to treatment.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Published on: Oct 21, 2014on: Oct 21, 2016

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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