Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating is uncontrolled eating of large amounts of food. Binge eating occurs in a discrete period of time and may occur to the point of feeling physically uncomfortable. Binge eating that occurs regularly for 6 months or longer is considered binge eating disorder. People with binge eating disorder do not purge after binge eating.


More women than men have binge eating disorder. It usually starts during the teenage years or early 20s. There is not one cause of binge eating disorder. A number of risk factors have been identified:

  • Family history of eating disorders. There may be a genetic component to eating disorders. Eating behaviors and learning how to cope with distress may also be learned.

  • Low self-esteem.

  • Overweight at a young age.

  • Frequent, unsuccessful dieting.

  • Depression or anxiety.

  • Difficulty coping with emotions or distress.

  • History of alcohol or drug abuse.


Symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Frequently eating large amounts of food very fast.

  • Frequently eating a lot more than necessary to feel full.

  • Feeling a loss of control when eating, such as not being able to stop eating.

  • Feeling bad about overeating.


A diagnosis of binge eating disorder is based on established criteria for the disorder. These criteria are listed as follows:

  • Binge eating 2 times per week or more for 6 months or longer.

  • Three or more of the following behaviors:

  • Eating very fast.

  • Eating until feeling uncomfortable.

  • Eating a lot of food when not hungry.

  • Eating alone to hide eating.

  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, or ashamed about eating.

  • Fear that binge eating cannot be stopped.


Caregivers who usually treat people with binge eating disorders are mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and clinical social workers. More than one type of treatment often is used. Treatments may include:

  • Psychotherapy.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This helps you recognize your thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that contribute to unhealthy eating habits. Then it helps you change that habit.

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy. This shows you how to have better relationships with others. You might learn new ways to communicate.

  • Dialectical behavioral therapy. This type of treatment helps you learn skills to regulate your emotions and tolerate distress without using binge eating.

  • Antidepressant medications. These medications affect the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. One type is called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. It often helps people with binge eating disorder.

  • Weight-loss programs. These can be important for binge eaters who weigh too much. Losing excess weight can help prevent other health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease. It can also help you feel better about yourself.


  • You have frequent nausea or you vomit often.

  • You have chest pain.

  • You have trouble breathing.

  • You think about harming yourself or someone else.

  • You start vomiting on purpose or using other behaviors (excessive exercise, laxatives) to compensate for binges.


National Eating Disorders Association: