Binge eating disorder (BED) is a condition in which people have frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food very quickly, often to the point where they feel uncomfortable.
People with BED typically do not purge (vomit) after a binge eating episode.
Roughly half of all people with binge eating disorder are overweight or obese.
Understanding Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder vs. Overeating
Binge eating disorder is far more severe, and much less common, than overeating.
Unlike overeating, BED is associated with significant physical and psychological problems.
During a bingeing episode, people with BED experience a loss of control. They may feel like they can’t stop eating or control the amount, or content, of what they eat.
After bingeing, people with BED often feel extreme guilt, embarrassment, or disgust. They may try to hide the behavior by bingeing alone.
Many people with binge eating disorder experience difficulty functioning in their personal or work life.
Estimates suggest that roughly 80 percent of people with BED have a lifetime history of at least one other psychiatric disorder.
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
It’s even more common than other well-known eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.
In the United States, about 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men will develop BED at some point in their lives.
BED develops most commonly in early adulthood, although people can develop an eating disorder at any point in life. The average age of BED onset is 23.
Causes and Risk Factors
It’s unclear what causes binge eating disorder.
Like other eating disorders, BED is probably caused by a combination of genetic, psychological, and social factors.
Some risk factors for binge eating disorder include:
- A history of anxiety or depression
- A history of dieting (especially in unhealthy ways, such as skipping meals or not eating enough food each day)
- Painful childhood experiences, such as family problems
Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
People with binge eating disorder have frequent bingeing episodes, typically at least once a week over the course of three months or more.
Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when you’re not feeling hungry
- Eating alone, because you feel embarrassed about how much you’re eating
- Feeling extremely disgusted, depressed, or guilty after eating
Some people also display behavioral, emotional, or physical characteristics, such as:
- Secretive food behaviors, including hoarding, hiding, or stealing food
- Feelings of anger, anxiety, worthlessness, or shame preceding a binge
- Feeling disgusted with your body size
- A strong need to be in control, or perfectionist tendencies
Binge Eating Disorder Treatment
If you have binge eating disorder, you should seek help from a specialist in eating disorders, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
There are several treatments available for BED. Treatment options may include:
Psychotherapy: Counseling or “talk therapy” may be aimed at reducing or eliminating binges, as well as the distressing feelings associated with them.
Medications: Several types of medication — including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are frequently used to treat depression — may also be used to treat BED.
Behavioral weight loss therapy: Overweight and obese people with BED may benefit from therapy that includes diet and exercise programming and nutritional counseling.