What Is Binge Eating Disorder? (2023)

What is binge eating disorder?

Those who struggle with a binge eating disorder consume vast amounts of food over a short period and experience episodes of overeating regularly. Sufferers with this emotionally challenging disorder often immediately regret their actions afterward.

A common misconception is that binge eating disorder is defined as the behaviors associated with binge eating. In reality, many who struggle with binge eating disorder experience extreme fear, anxiety, and shame around eating. One of the core issues driving binge eating, is actually a restrictive mindset.

People with BED often find that when they eat, they are experiencing a dissociative state. It, therefore, becomes difficult to be able to track hunger and fullness cues. The impulse is possibly tied to restrictive eating in the first place, making treatment that addresses underlying restriction the most effective for people with BED.

Diagnosing binge eating disorder

To diagnose binge eating disorder, a health care provider familiar with all forms of eating disorders will need to form a therapeutic alliance with the patient and be able to have a meaningful conversation around the patient's inner experience and relationship with food.

Many health care professionals who don’t specialize in treating eating disorders will often overlook the laboratory tests and other impacts of restriction beyond binge eating. In some cases, patients may be told to diet and lose weight, perpetuating the issue.

There are a multitude of issues associated with BED that can be missed without a thorough examination of the patient. Make sure your care team tests for things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart health, and diabetes, and other signs of binge eating disorder.

These disorders include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and sleep-related breathing issues like snoring or obstructive sleep apnea. The tests may involve:

(Video) Binge Eating Disorder: 3 Common Myths

  • Blood tests and urinalysis
  • Physical examination, including thyroid studies, and hormonal evaluations
  • Consultation with a sleep disorder clinic

These are only a few procedures someone with BED could expect to happen when diagnosed with this disorder. The patient's medical provider may decide more comprehensive tests are necessary. (1)

According to the diagnostic manual published by the American Psychiatric Association for mental disorders, the (DSM-V) criteria for diagnosing BED those with this condition will exhibit these behaviors: (2)

  • Binge eating at least once a week for more than three months
  • Eating more rapidly than normal
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating beyond feeling full
  • Secretive eating
  • Feelings of self-disgust
  • Distress about bingeing
  • Binge eating with the absence of purging
  • Bingeing to relieve stress or anxiety
  • Feelings of worthlessness

Library sections you should visit

  • Binge eating disorder health risks
  • Binge eating disorder treatment

Signs & symptoms of binge eating disorder

When examining the signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder, keep in mind that it is misguided to assume a person living in a larger body is overeating and a person living in a smaller body has a healthy relationship with food. The reality is that BED comes in all sizes, and causes pain and suffering regardless of body size.

The warning signs that a person is struggling with binge eating disorder include (but are not limited to): (3)

  • Eating high volumes of food without the presence of hunger (no purging involved)
  • Feeling of loss of control when eating
  • Eating until painfully or uncomfortably full
  • Secretive eating
  • Hiding food
  • Weight fluctuations (generally weight gain)
  • Feelings of shame and guilt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-medicating with food
  • High anxiety and/or depression

Effects of binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder can result in several negative consequences, including depression and social isolation, and can lead to health issues, and substance use. The patient may experience metabolic complications and instability in their weight, including but not limited to weight cycling. (10)

There are both short and long-term effects of BED.

Short-term effects

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Guilt and shame
  • Isolation
  • Poor quality of life
  • Problems at work, school, or home
  • Weight cycling and/or gain

Long-term effects

  • Certain cancers
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Sleep apnea
  • Type 2 diabetes. (5)

Related disorders

There are a few co-occurring psychiatric illnesses that can drive forward or exacerbate this condition. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a common co-occurring condition due to the trauma related to micro and macro aggressions tied to living in a larger body (if that is how their condition manifests).

(Video) Binge Eating Disorder (BED): Symptoms, Common Triggers, & Treatment | Mass General Brigham

Other conditions that commonly co-occur with BED include, but are not limited to:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Heart disease and cardiac problems
  • Some types of cancers
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression mood disorder
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety

Treatment of binge eating disorder

Effective binge eating disorder treatment includes engaging in a therapeutic alliance in which they can begin to explore their relationship to themselves, their body, and food. Oftentimes patients need a great deal of support in being able to give themselves permission to eat, and will benefit from learning the principles of mindfulness.

Thankfully, no one has to navigate a binge eating disorder alone. There are support groups, therapies, and medications available to help treat BED. (1)

When treating binge eating disorders, a holistic approach focusing on the entire body is recommended by most medical professionals.

Therapies for binge eating disorder

Psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) is a great way to change eating habits from unhealthy ones into healthy ones. Therapy can also help reduce how often a person engages in binge eating.

Here are a few types of therapy available for helping someone with binge eating disorder:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT treatment helps people cope with issues that trigger BED episodes. CBT helps people cope with negative feelings about their body. Treatment with CBT also gives them a sense of control over their behavior to improve eating habits by understanding the connection between these two variables.
  • Nutrition Therapy/Mindful Eating: Working with a nutritionist to establish a better relationship with food is recommended for anyone with BED. Addressing active triggers, emotions, and associations with food, and eating will help the individual heal. It is often recommended that someone with BED seek out both psychotherapy, and a nutritionist specializing in eating disorders, as the two forms of therapy work well together.
  • Group Therapies: Attending group therapy is a great way to connect with other people who have BED and share experiences. Learning that many people have BED, and that it is not an individual struggle can be incredibly healing. Group therapy for BED works best when attending in addition to other forms of therapy, and should not be seen as a replacement for speaking with your therapist.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy: Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses on communication and interpersonal skills. The goal is to improve relationships with others. Treatment with interpersonal psychotherapy could reduce binge eating stemming from problematic relationship dynamics or poor communication skills. Treatment may also lead to a decrease in bingeing behaviors.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT can help people become more aware of their triggers, while teaching them to tolerate stress, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others. All these things will reduce the desire to binge eat.
  • Social Activism: Learning about weight stigma, and finding ways to share a better understanding of BED can also prove healing for some.

Medications for binge eating disorder

Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate), a stimulant used to treat moderate-to-severe binge eating disorders in adults, is the first FDA-approved medication for this purpose. Vyvanse can be habit-forming and misused. Its most common side effects are dry mouth or insomnia.

Vyvanse also carries more severe risks such as high blood pressure leading to heart failure. Also, involuntary twitching and uncontrolled muscle movements are associated with this medication.

(Video) Understanding Binge Eating Disorder

Other medications can also reduce symptoms of BED:

  • Dietary supplements
  • Antidepressants and other psychiatric medications that address the common co-occurring conditions

Understanding binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder affects people across all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, races, ages, and body types. But even with this disorder being a widespread issue, many still struggle in silence.

While people with BED may feel alone, they're not. In fact, 30% of people who seek out treatment for eating disorders struggle with BED specifically. (9)

Some people with BED do not feel safe in traditional eating disorder treatment facilities, and would benefit from private care with a psychotherapist, and nutritionist. Attending group therapy can also be healing with people with BED, to help them recognize they aren’t alone in their disorder. Special care must be paid to understanding the intense emotions behind BED which require compassionate treatment practices.

When a person is engaging in binge eating behavior they are often in a dissociative state and are not in control of their actions. The majority of the time, the underlying reason for binge eating is because of food or dietary restrictions put on them in the first place.

Always remember that although binge eating disorder is a serious condition, thoughtful treatment programs are available, and healing is possible.

Living with binge eating disorder

Living with an eating disorder is a constant struggle because a person must eat food daily. People with BED have to navigate periods of restriction, as well as episodes of binge eating, and the associated emotions that manifest with both behaviors every day.

Careful attention should be paid to food restriction around BED episodes. The reason being that the first step of a binge episode involves restricting food intake to the point of individuals being excessively hungry later in the day, which can lead to mindless eating. Keeping a food journal that documents what patterns led to the bingeing episode is therefore an incredibly valuable treatment tool.

(Video) Binge Eating Disorder: Recovery Begins With Compassion | Stanford

Here are a few additional tips on dealing with BED:

  • Identify triggers
  • Set healthy boundaries
  • Find a positive role-model
  • Confide in a trusted friend or family member
  • Find someone who can be supportive
  • Attend group therapy for BED
  • Focus on self-care
  • Evaluate patterns with food paying attention to patterns of restriction
  • Consider keeping a journal. (1)

History of binge eating disorder

Eating disorders have been around for thousands of years, with descriptions from the Hellenistic (323 BD-31 BC) and medieval times (5th-15th century AD). However, Dr. Albert Stunkard recognized BED in 1959. (8)

Binge eating disorder in pop culture

Pop culture in the United States is often associated with the diet culture, as many fight an internal battle with body image issues. Societal standards of beauty often cause people to develop unhealthy relationships with food.

A study by the National Institute of Health examined the increase in risk factors for developing BED due to exposure to pop culture and media influence. This cross-cultural study showed that those exposed to pop culture in America were more likely to be diagnosed with BED than other cultures like Mexican-born participants. (8)

Furthermore, the word “binge” is often overused in American pop culture. Binge is associated with such activities as “binge-watching” television shows, or “going on a shopping binge.” This cavalier use of the word is harmful and furthers the stigma BED sufferers feel about their condition for those who struggle with binge disorders.

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How to help someone with binge eating disorder

To those trying to overcome binge eating, support and connection from loved ones are not only helpful but essential. Here are ways to help someone with BED:

  • Be educated about the disorder
  • Avoid (and watch out for) talk of dieting
  • Don't guilt or shame the binge eater
  • Be careful not to enable the person struggling with BED
  • Validate their feeling
  • Consider family therapy
  • Set healthy boundaries

Specialized treatment may be necessary to overcome BED. Yet, treatment is possible, and people do recover from this disorder.

(Video) Binge Eating Disorder Treatment

At Within Health, we understand that everyone has a different body shape and size that is deserving of care and love regardless of what number presents on the scale or their specific challenges around food.

If you or a loved one are looking for binge eating disorder treatment or healing for another eating disorder, we are here to help. Call our admissions team now to build a healthy relationship with food.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.


What is considered a binge eat? ›

A binge eating episode can last over an hour, though it may be much shorter or longer. Sometimes binge eating is a planned activity and other times it is not. Most binges involve the consumption of more than 1,000 calories, with a quarter of binges exceeding 2,000 calories.

How can you tell if someone is binge eating? ›

Signs include:
  1. Buying lots of food.
  2. Organising life around bingeing episodes.
  3. Hoarding food.
  4. Eating very rapidly.
  5. Eating when not hungry.
  6. Eating until uncomfortably full.
  7. Avoiding eating around others.
  8. Social withdrawal and isolation.

What happens when you binge eat? ›

Binge eating overloads a person's system, which may result in low energy, sleepiness, and sluggishness. Eating large amounts of food in a short period of time also may result in acid reflux, cramping, heartburn, and diarrhea.

What is the cause of binge? ›

Like other eating disorders, binge eating disorder results from a mix of factors related to your genes, your thoughts and feelings—particularly about your weight and shape—as well as cultural and social issues and your environment. Binge eating disorder also has been linked to depression link and anxiety link.

What is an example of a binge? ›

An example of a binge episode might be: an individual would eat a bowl of cereal with milk, 2 scoops of ice cream, ½ bag of chips and a sleeve of cookies in a two hour period, shortly after a full size dinner; or a person driving through a fast food restaurant after work, consuming a whole meal there, and then going ...

How many calories do people binge? ›

Binge eating is when a person eats a much larger amount of food in a shorter period of time than he or she normally would. During binge eating, the person also feels a loss of control. A binge eater often: Eats 5,000–15,000 calories in one sitting.

What is a common trigger for a binge episode? ›

Environmental triggers are things in your environment that make you want to eat. For example, parties and other social gatherings often include food. You may eat at these events even if you are not hungry. Seeing foods may also trigger environmental eating, such as a candy dish or box of donuts in your office.

What does a binge feel like? ›

Embarrassment over how much you're eating. Feeling numb while bingeing—like you're not really there or you're on auto-pilot. Never feeling satisfied, no matter how much you eat. Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed after overeating.

How do I stop the urge to binge? ›

You may think your desire to binge will just continue to grow. But if you distract yourself with other things and get away from your food triggers, you'll see that feeling start to go away.
Distract yourself.
  1. Play a game you really enjoy.
  2. Go for a walk.
  3. Go to the park.
  4. Mow the lawn.
  5. Go for a drive.
  6. Meditate.
  7. Read a book.
20 Oct 2021

What do people do after they binge? ›

10 Ways to Get Back on Track After a Binge
  • Go for a Walk. Share on Pinterest. ...
  • Sleep It Off. ...
  • Eat a Healthy Breakfast. ...
  • Stay Hydrated. ...
  • Try Yoga. ...
  • Fill up on Veggies. ...
  • Avoid Skipping Meals. ...
  • Start Exercising.
2 Apr 2018

What happens if you binge too much? ›

Weight Gain and Obesity

You put on extra pounds by eating lots of food in a short period of time and not burning the calories off with exercise. A lot of people who binge feel bad about their weight, too. This leads to low self-esteem, which can cause more overeating.

Why does it feel good to binge eat? ›

When we overeat, dopamine works to reward us by releasing feelings of pleasure and euphoria when overeating. When restricting in an eating disorder, it can be released when they are fasting or restricting, and when eating may experience a negative food response [1].

What are the characteristics of a binge? ›

Binge eating is defined by two characteristics: eating an unusually large quantity of food during a short time period (two hours) and feeling a lack of control during each episode of overeating. Unlike other eating disorders, BED is not necessarily associated with inappropriate weight control behaviors.

Is overeating the same as binging? ›

Overeating is not the same thing as binge eating disorder. BED is a medical condition, and it's the most common eating disorder in the United States. People with BED regularly eat large amounts of food while experiencing a sense of loss of control over the eating episode. They often feel guilty or shame after eating.

What is a true binge? ›

Binge eating is when you eat a large amount of food in a short amount of time and feel you can't control what or how much you are eating. If you binge eat regularly—at least once a week for 3 months—you may have binge eating disorder. If you have binge eating disorder, you may be very upset by your binge eating.

Will I gain weight if I binge one day? ›

It can be useful to remember that, just as one day of dieting will not cause a person to lose weight, a day of binge eating will not cause weight gain. Although an episode of overeating can happen to anyone occasionally, some people have a binge eating disorder, which usually requires professional attention.

Is it OK to have 1 binge day? ›

Yes. In fact, having a regularly scheduled cheat day each week can actually be good for weight loss by preventing binges, reducing cravings, providing a mental break from dieting, and boosting metabolism—if it's done in a healthy way.

How much weight can you gain from a binge? ›

Taken together, the increase in sodium, carbohydrate, and water storage could bump your weight up by 5-to-10 pounds or more overnight.

What are the types of binges? ›

What Type of Binge Eater Are You?
  • The Hunger Binge. Triggered by physical hunger after under-eating, dieting, or going too long without eating. ...
  • The Deprivation Binge. ...
  • The Stress Binge. ...
  • The Opportunity Binge. ...
  • The Vengeful Binge. ...
  • The Pleasure Binge. ...
  • The Habit Binge.
12 Apr 2018

What is a psychological binge? ›

Binge eating disorder is characterized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as periods of eating more than a usual amount of food within a period of time and feeling a lack of control over eating during the episode.

How long does a binge urge last? ›

For most people the urge to binge lasts about 20-30 minutes. The urge will have a peak (just like a wave) where it feels the strongest and then will start to dissipate. Knowing this is very empowering and helps you feel like you have some control over the situation.

Is binging an addiction? ›

But many people who binge eat become obese, while binge eating is a primary characteristic of anorexia and bulimia. Binge eating is addictive because it is an example of experiences people turn to and depend on as a way of dealing with life problems, just as people drink and turn to drugs.

How do you break a binge cycle? ›

Practical Tips to Stop the Binge-Restrict Cycle
  1. Stop restricting yourself. ...
  2. Make sure you eat the next meal. ...
  3. Plan out your meals and snacks. ...
  4. Recognize that foods are not good or bad. ...
  5. Late night snacking, usually due to hunger or boredom. ...
  6. Zoning out in front of the TV, or other form of numbing out. ...
  7. Stressful situations.
29 Dec 2020

Why is it so hard to stop a binge? ›

Binge eating may be driven by a need to soothe negative emotions, anxiety, stress, or depression. However, the feeling of comfort that eating may bring does not last long and individuals may experience shame, guilt, and distress following bingeing episodes.

How do you know if you have eaten too much? ›

Overeating causes the stomach to expand beyond its normal size to adjust to the large amount of food. The expanded stomach pushes against other organs, making you uncomfortable. This discomfort can take the form of feeling tired, sluggish or drowsy. Your clothes also may feel tight, too.

What happens to your body day after binge? ›

After a binge, your system is overloaded with a rush of calories, sugar, and fat. In addition to causing hormone and energy levels to fluctuate, this significant excess of calories promotes fat storage, inflammation, and digestive discomfort (think bloating and constipation).

What should I eat after a big binge? ›

15 Healthy Foods to Eat After a Binge
  • Yogurt. 1/15. The probiotic power of yogurt can help tame tummy troubles brought on by too much food. ...
  • Bananas. 2/15. Blood pressure on the rise from a sodium surge? ...
  • Oatmeal. 3/15. ...
  • Green tea. 4/15. ...
  • Nuts. 5/15. ...
  • Beans. 6/15. ...
  • Eggs. 7/15. ...
  • Spinach. 8/15.
17 Dec 2020

How long is a binge? ›

According to the DSM-5 criteria, a binge eating episode is characterized by: (a) consuming a significantly large amount of food in a discrete period of time (e.g., within two hours) compared to what most others would eat under similar circumstances; and (b) the presence of a subjective sense of loss of control over ...

What makes you fat fast? ›

“The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight,” the World Health Organization says, “is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.” Put simply, we either eat too much or are too sedentary, or both.

How much weight can you put on in a day? ›

Daily weight fluctuation is normal. The average adult's weight fluctuates up to 5 or 6 pounds per day. It all comes down to what and when you eat, drink, exercise, and even sleep.

Why do girls binge eat? ›

Why Do Some People Binge Eat? Experts don't know the exact cause of binge eating disorder. It's likely a combination of things, including genetics, family eating habits, emotions, and eating behavior, like skipping meals. Some people use food as a way to soothe themselves or to cope with difficult feelings.

How many hours is considered binging? ›

NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent - or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter - or higher. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours.

What's the difference between snacking and binging? ›

In general, binge eaters tend to eat more often than those who experience the occasional bout of overeating. Note that continually snacking throughout the day (grazing) is not considered binge eating.

Is it okay to binge eat for a week? ›

Studies have found that the repeated cycle of eating healthily in the week and bingeing on junk food every weekend can be very damaging to your gut health – specifically your gut microbiota.

Is binging a form of addiction? ›

But many people who binge eat become obese, while binge eating is a primary characteristic of anorexia and bulimia. Binge eating is addictive because it is an example of experiences people turn to and depend on as a way of dealing with life problems, just as people drink and turn to drugs.

How much is too much binge? ›

Watching anywhere between two and six episodes of a TV series in one sitting is a behavior called binge watching, and it can have a negative impact on your health.

How do you stop binge behavior? ›

What can I do to stop bingeing?
  1. THINK model. Mantell suggests trying the THINK model when a binge feels imminent. ...
  2. Therapy. ...
  3. Take a walk.
  4. Meditate.
  5. Try yoga.
  6. Stick to a schedule.
  7. Find a support group. ...
  8. Learn more about bingeing.

What is emotional binging? ›

Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. Major life events or, more commonly, the hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and disrupt your weight-loss efforts.

Is binging a coping mechanism? ›

Binge eating is sometimes a way to cope with issues you face in life, such as stress and trauma. It doesn't mean you're weak or failing in any way. If you have binge eating disorder, know that you're not alone. Binge eating disorder (BED) is actually the most common eating disorder.

Will one binge gain weight? ›

It can be useful to remember that, just as one day of dieting will not cause a person to lose weight, a day of binge eating will not cause weight gain. Although an episode of overeating can happen to anyone occasionally, some people have a binge eating disorder, which usually requires professional attention.

How often does the average person binge eat? ›

The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months. The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging) as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

How do you know if you ate too much? ›

Overeating causes the stomach to expand beyond its normal size to adjust to the large amount of food. The expanded stomach pushes against other organs, making you uncomfortable. This discomfort can take the form of feeling tired, sluggish or drowsy. Your clothes also may feel tight, too.


1. Binge Eating: Signs & Treatment Options From An Eating Disorder Expert | Stanford
(Stanford Center for Health Education)
2. Trauma, Body Shame, and Binge Eating Disorder
(PESI Inc)
3. Binge eating disorder - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, pathology
4. Binge Eating Disorder (BED) Symptoms & Signs
(Eating Recovery Center)
5. Difference Between Binge Eating and Overeating
(Psych Hub)
6. Causes of Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
(Eating Recovery Center)
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