Binge Eating Disorder

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Definition & Facts

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating is when you eat a large amount of food in a short amount of time and feel that 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.

Woman eating cookies
If you have binge eating disorder, you may be very upset by your binge eating.

How is binge eating disorder different from bulimia nervosa?

Unlike people with binge eating disorder, people who have bulimia nervosa try to prevent weight gain after binge eating by vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising too much.

How common is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States. About 3.5 percent of adult women and 2 percent of adult men have binge eating disorder. For men, binge eating disorder is most common in midlife, between the ages of 45 to 59.1

For women, binge eating disorder most commonly starts in early adulthood, between the ages of 18 and 29. About 1.6 percent of teenagers are affected.2 A much larger number of adults and children have episodes of binge eating or loss-of-control eating, but the episodes do not occur frequently enough to meet the criteria for binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder affects African Americans as often as whites. More research is needed on how often binge eating disorder affects people in other racial and ethnic groups.

Who is more likely to develop binge eating disorder?

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

Painful childhood experiences—such as family problems and critical comments about your shape, weight, or eating—also are associated with developing binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder also runs in families, and there may be 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 associated with 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 or anxiety. Some people with binge eating disorder also have problems with their digestive system, or joint and muscle pain.

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 hours3
  • feel you lack control over your eating; for example, you cannot stop eating or control what or how much you are eating
Woman eating chocolate
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 overeating4

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

What causes binge eating disorder?

No one knows for sure what causes binge eating disorder. Like other eating disorders, binge eating disorder may result from a mix of factors related to your genes, your thoughts and feelings, and social issues. Binge eating disorder 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 doctors diagnose binge eating disorder?

Most of us overeat from time to time, and 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.

Woman patient with doctor.
To determine if you have binge eating disorder, you may want to talk with a specialist in eating disorders.

To determine if you have binge eating disorder, you may want to talk with a specialist in eating disorders, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional. He or she will talk with you about your symptoms and eating patterns. If a health care provider determines you have binge eating disorder, he or she can work with you to find the best treatment options. 

How do doctors treat binge eating disorder?

Talk to your doctor if you think you have binge eating disorder. Ask him or her to refer you to a mental health professioinal in your area. A specialist, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional, may be able to help you choose the best treatment for you.

Treatment may include therapy to help you change your eating habits, as well as thoughts and feelings that may lead to binge eating and 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 provider may also prescribe medication 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 also offers treatment for eating disorders may help you lose weight. However, some people with binge eating disorder do just as well in a behavioral treatment program designed only for weight loss as people who do not binge eat. Talk with your health care professional to help you decide whether you should try to manage your binge eating before entering a weight management program.

Patient standing on weight scale.
Binge eating may make it hard to lose weight and keep it off.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support basic and clinical research into many digestive disorders.

What are clinical trials and are they right for you?

Clinical trials are part of clinical research and at the heart of all medical advances. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Find out if clinical trials are right for you.

What clinical trials are open?

Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at www.ClinicalTrials.gov.

June 2016
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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 through its clearinghouses and education programs 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.