Binge Eating Disorder

Return to Overview Page

Definition & Facts

In this section:

What is binge eating disorder?

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. You also may feel ashamed and try to hide your problem. Even your close friends and family members may not know you binge eat.

A young woman sits with her hands against her chin, lost in her thoughts.If you have binge eating disorder, you may be very upset by your binge eating.

How is binge eating disorder different from bulimia nervosa?

People who have bulimia nervosa routinely try to prevent weight gain after binge eating by vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising excessively. People with binge eating disorder may occasionally try these strategies to avoid weight gain, but it is not a regular part of their binge-eating behavior.

How common is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States, and it affects people of all racial and ethnic groups. About 1.25% of adult women and 0.42% of adult men have binge eating disorder.1 About 1.6% of teens age 13 to 18 years old are affected.2 A much larger percentage of teens and adults have episodes of binge eating or loss-of-control eating—which is the feeling that you cannot control your eating, regardless of how much food you actually eat—but at a rate that is not frequent enough to meet the criteria for binge eating disorder.

The average age at which binge eating disorder first occurs is 25 years.1 Nearly two-thirds of people who meet the criteria for binge eating disorder experience binge eating episodes over the span of 1 year or longer.1

Who is more likely to develop binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder can occur in people of average body weight, but it is more common in people who have obesity, particularly severe obesity. However, it is important to note that most people with obesity do not have binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder is more common in younger and middle-aged people. However, older people can be affected, too.

Binge eating disorder is common among people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.3,4 The distress of having diabetes, which requires a constant focus on weight and food control, may be the reason for this link. In some people, binge eating disorder contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes, both through excessive weight gain and increased risk of metabolic abnormalities. Binge eating disorder can also make it harder for people with diabetes to control their blood glucose, also known as blood sugar.

For some people, painful childhood experiences—such as family problems and critical comments about your shape, weight, or eating habits—are linked to developing binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder runs in families, and researchers have identified a genetic component as well.

What other health problems can you have with binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder may lead to weight gain and health problems related to obesity. Overweight and obesity are linked to many health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. People with binge eating disorder may also have mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. Some people with binge eating disorder also have sleep disorders, problems with their digestive system, or joint and muscle pain. More than half of people with binge eating disorder report it caused them problems in social functioning, for example, it interferes with their normal daily activities.1

References

Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of binge eating disorder?

If you have binge eating disorder, you may

  • eat a large amount of food in a short amount of time; for example, within 2 hours5
  • feel you lack control over your eating; for example, you cannot stop eating or control what or how much you are eating
A young man sits in a park with his hand on his chin.If you have binge eating disorder, you may eat a large amount of food in a short amount of time.

You also may

  • eat more quickly than usual during binge episodes
  • eat until you feel uncomfortably full
  • eat large amounts of food even when you are not hungry
  • eat alone because you are embarrassed about the amount of food you eat
  • feel disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating5

If you think that you or someone close to you may have binge eating disorder, share your concerns with a health care professional, who can connect you to helpful sources of care.

What causes binge eating disorder?

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 and anxiety.

For some people, dieting in unhealthy ways—such as skipping meals, not eating enough food, or avoiding certain kinds of food—may contribute to binge eating.

References

Diagnosis & Treatment

How do health care professionals diagnose binge eating disorder?

Most of us overeat from time to time. Some of us often feel we have eaten more than we should have. Eating a lot of food does not necessarily mean you have binge eating disorder.

A health care professional talks in her office with a young woman who has obesity.To determine whether you have binge eating disorder, you may want to talk with a specialist trained in eating disorders.

To determine whether you have binge eating disorder, talk with a mental health specialist who focuses on eating disorders. The specialist will talk with you about your symptoms and eating patterns and will help you find the best treatment options if you are diagnosed with binge eating disorder.

How do health care professionals treat binge eating disorder?

Treatment may include therapy to help you change your eating habits, thoughts, and feelings that have contributed to binge eating as well as other psychological symptoms. Types of therapy that have been shown to help people with binge eating disorder are called psychotherapies and include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and dialectical behavior therapy.

Your psychiatrist or other health care professional may also prescribe medicine to help you with your binge eating, or to treat other medical or mental health problems.

Should you try to lose weight if you have binge eating disorder?

Losing weight may help prevent or reduce some of the health problems related to carrying excess weight. Binge eating may make it hard to lose weight and keep it off.

If you have binge eating disorder and are overweight, a weight-loss program that helps you develop a structured eating plan and address problem thoughts, particularly about eating and weight, may be helpful. Some people with binge eating disorder require treatment for their binge eating before entering a weight management program. However, some people with binge eating disorder do just as well as people who do not binge eat in behavioral treatment programs.

Talk with your health care professional about whether you should try to manage your binge eating before entering a weight management program. A licensed nutrition professional, such as a registered dietitian trained in disordered eating can help you adopt healthier eating patterns. Learn more on treatment at the National Institute of Mental Health.

A person steps onto a bathroom scale.Binge eating may make it hard to lose weight and keep it off.

Clinical Trials

The NIDDK conducts and supports clinical trials in many diseases and conditions, including weight management. The trials look to find new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease and improve quality of life.

What are clinical trials for binge eating disorder?

Clinical trials—and other types of clinical studies—are part of medical research and involve people like you. When you volunteer to take part in a clinical study, you help doctors and researchers learn more about disease and improve health care for people in the future.

Researchers are studying many aspects of binge eating disorder, such as

  • how to prevent binge eating disorder
  • effective treatments, including culturally responsive treatments for specific populations
  • genetic links to binge eating disorder
  • the relationship between binge eating disorder and obesity

Find out if clinical studies are right for you.

Watch a video of NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers explaining the importance of participating in clinical trials.

What clinical trials for binge eating disorders are looking for participants?

You can view a filtered list of clinical studies on binge eating disorder that are federally funded, open, and recruiting at www.ClinicalTrials.gov. You can expand or narrow the list to include clinical studies from industry, universities, and individuals; however, the National Institutes of Health does not review these studies and cannot ensure they are safe. Always talk with your health care provider before you participate in a clinical study.

Last Reviewed May 2021
Share

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, Ph.D., Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and Thomas A. Wadden, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine