Definition & Facts for Binge Eating Disorder

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

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.

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