Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States.6 The key symptoms are consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time and feeling out of control during a binge.
Many people do not seek treatment because they fear others will judge them for being unable to control their diet. However, left untreated, the disorder can lead to severe short-term and long-term side effects including obesity, health problems, and other psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
If you believe you or someone you know may be suffering from binge eating disorder, read on to learn more about:
- The definition of binge eating disorder.
- Signs and symptoms.
- What causes binge eating disorder.
- Short-term and long-term effects.
- Depression and binge eating.
- Binge eating disorder facts and statistics.
- Getting help for binge eating disorder.
What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder characterized by frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food (often very quickly). During a binge, a person with BED feels out of control. Afterwards, they often feel intense distress, guilt, and shame.1
People with BED do not make themselves vomit or take laxatives to counter the binge. This differentiates binge eating disorder from bulimia , which is a separate but similarly dangerous disorder.
People often keep BED symptoms secret from family and friends because they’re embarrassed. But binge eating disorder is a severe and life-threatening disease that requires professional help.
All obese people do not have BED. But about two-thirds of people with BED are obese.1
Signs and Symptoms
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) now recognizes binge eating disorder as a diagnosable eating disorder. This recognition is significant because it gives legitimacy to an increasingly common disorder. It is also a victory for patients, because insurance companies often require a DSM diagnosis before they will cover the cost of treatment.1
The DSM-V lists the following diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder:
- Repeated episodes of binge eating characterized by eating a large portion of food within a specific time period (e.g., within any 2-hour period), as well as a lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).
- The binge eating episodes are associated with 3 (or more) of the following symptoms:
- Eating more rapidly than normal
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not hungry
- Eating alone due to embarrassment about how much one is eating
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after a binge
- Distress about binge eating.
- The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.
- The binge eating is not associated with the use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging) as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively with bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. 10
Signs of binge eating disorder include:
- Secretive eating behavior.
- Disruption of normal eating behavior.
- Making time to binge.
- Binging to relieve tension or deal with negative emotions.
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, or anger.
- Feelings of disgust about body size.
- Physical changes.1,2
If you notice any of these binge eating disorder symptoms in yourself or someone you know, seek professional help.
Our knowledgeable support staff can help you find a binge eating disorder treatment program that works for you. Call our helpline anytime at .
What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?
The causes of binge eating disorder are unknown. However, several factors increase the likelihood of developing BED.
- Genetics. People are more likely to develop an eating disorder if someone in their family has one or has had one in the past. A twin study showed that both obesity and binge eating are hereditary conditions. Researchers say that obesity is substantially hereditary and binge eating is moderately hereditary.3
- Mental health disorders. BED is linked with depression and personality disorders. Many people with BED feel negatively about themselves and their bodies. They may even be dissatisfied with their skills and accomplishments. 2
- Emotional problems. People with binge eating disorder have difficulty coping with emotions. Sufferers say that feeling stress, anger, boredom, and worry can lead to a binge.4 The feelings of worthlessness, depression, and shame that follow a binging episode can trigger someone to binge again. The cycle can go on and on.
- History of dieting. Many people with BED diet regularly and have been doing so since childhood. Periods of calorie restriction or the restriction of certain foods often precede binging episodes.2
- History of food issues. Painful childhood experiences with food and dieting may also cause BED. Many people with BED remember being mocked or criticized about their weight when they were children.6
- Trauma. One study found that many women experienced traumatic abuse or difficult life events in the year prior to onset of BED. Events included emotional abuse, such as comments about their weight, and physical abuse, such as fear for their own safety. Women with BED were also more likely to have experienced stress at work, at home, and in their personal relationships than control groups.5
Certain thought patterns and personality characteristics are commonly associated with binge eating disorder. These include:
- Rigid, “all or nothing” thinking.
- A strong desire to be in control.
- Difficulty expressing feelings and needs.
- Working hard to please others.1
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
In the short-term, people with binge eating disorder mainly experience emotional and psychological side effects, such as:
- Social isolation.
- Problems at work/home.
- Weight gain.
- Lower quality of life.1,2
Most of the long-term effects of BED are associated with obesity. These include:
- Type 2 diabetes.
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol levels.
- Heart disease.
- Gallbladder disease.
- Joint pain.
- Sleep apnea.
- Certain cancers.
- Digestive problems.
- Muscle pain.1,6
Have you experienced the effects of bulimia, or do you know someone who has? Call a treatment support specialist at to learn more about programs that can help you or your loved one recover.
Depression and Binge Eating
Many people with binge eating disorder suffer from depression. They also have higher levels of anxiety than normal-weight or obese people without BED, and higher levels of both current and lifetime major depression.1
Behavioral problems are also common among people with binge eating disorder. They may:
- Abuse alcohol or other drugs.
- Act impulsively.
- Feel out of control.
- Feel disconnected from their community.4
Additionally, personality disorders, including bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, are associated with BED.4
Binge Eating Disorder Facts and Statistics
- BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States.1,6
- People from all cultures and demographics are affected by BED.1
- BED affects 3.5% of adult women and 2% of adult men.8
- About 60% of people who suffer from BED are women.1
- BED affects 2.3% of adolescent females and 0.8% of males.8
- For women, BED typically starts between the ages of 18 and 29.6
- For men, BED typically starts between the ages of 45 and 59.6
- As many as 30% of women enrolled in weight management programs may have BED.7
Getting Help for Binge Eating Disorder
If you are suffering from binge eating disorder, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people suffer from eating disorders and recover.
We can help you find a binge eating disorder treatment program that specializes in treating people just like you. Call our helpline at 1-888-344-8837 to speak with a treatment advisor today. We are always available to answer your questions and discuss your options.
. National Eating Disorders Association. Binge eating disorder.
. Mayo Clinic. (2016). Binge eating disorder.
. Bulik, C. M., Sullivan, P. F. and Kendler, K. S. (2003). Genetic and environmental contributions to obesity and binge eating. International Journal Eating Disorders, 33: 293–298.
. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health. (2012). Binge eating disorder fact sheet.
. Pike, K. M., Wilfley, D., Hilbert, A., Fairburn, C. G., Dohm, F. A., & Striegel-Moore, R. H. (2006). Antecedent life events of binge-eating disorder. Psychiatry Research, 142(1), 19-29.
. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2016). Definition and facts for binge eating disorder.
. De Zwaan, M. (2001). Binge eating disorder and obesity. International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders, 25.
. Lock, J., & La Via, M. C. (2015). Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with eating disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(5), 412-425.
. Hudson, J., Hiripi, E., Pope, H, and Kessler, R. (2007). The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry 61(3):348-358.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association