Definition & Facts for Binge Eating Disorder

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

Last Reviewed May 2021
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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 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.