Binge eating 

Introduction 

Binge eating usually takes place in private and is often followed by feelings of guilt or disgust 

Eating disorders

The term "eating disorder" covers conditions such as:

Read more information about eating disorders.

You can also download the NICE guidelines on eating disorders, which give information on advice for carers of someone with an eating disorder and what you can expect from the NHS if you have an eating disorder.

Binge eating is an eating disorder where a person feels compelled to overeat on a regular basis.

People who binge eat consume very large quantities of food over a short period of time and they often eat even when they are not hungry. Binges are often planned and can involve the person buying "special" binge foods.

Episodes of binge eating often alternate with periods where the person severely cuts down on the amount of food they eat, which can make the problem worse.

Binge eating usually takes place in private, with the person feeling that they have no control over their eating. They will often have feelings of guilt or disgust after binge eating. These feelings highlight underlying psychological issues, such as:

  • low self-esteem and lack of confidence
  • depression – feelings of extreme sadness that last for a long time
  • anxiety – a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can range from mild to severe

These feelings can be made worse over time while the person is still binge eating.

Read more information about the causes of binge eating.

Who is affected by binge eating?

Anyone can be affected by binge eating. Unlike anorexia, where more women than men are affected, binge eating affects men and women equally. The condition tends to be more common in older adults than in younger people.

Binge eating and bulimia

People who binge eat and those with bulimia (another type of eating disorder) often eat until they are uncomfortably full. People with bulimia then purge (flush out) the food they have eaten by making themselves vomit or by taking laxatives (medicine to help empty the bowels).

Unlike those with bulimia, people who binge eat do not purge themselves to control their weight, and are more likely to try to limit weight gain by having periods of eating very little. However, this often leads to more binge eating and sometimes weight gain, which can lead to obesity (see below).

Binge eating and obesity

Binge eating is often associated with obesity, where someone is very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over. Obesity is a serious health problem that can lead to a number of serious chronic (long-term) health conditions, such as:

Being obese can also shorten your life expectancy. For example, the life expectancy of obese adults who are over the age of 40 can be shortened by six or seven years. 

Read more about the symptoms of binge eating for details of other health conditions related to obesity.

Seeing your GP

Visit your GP if you think that you have a binge eating problem. They will be able to diagnose the condition and refer you to a specialist, such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist. In some cases, you may also be referred to a dietitian.

In diagnosing binge eating, your GP will ask you about your eating habits and look for three or more of the following signs:

  • you eat much faster than normal during a binge
  • you eat until you feel uncomfortably full
  • you eat a large amount of food when you are not hungry
  • you eat alone or secretly due to being embarrassed about the amount of food you are consuming
  • you have feelings of guilt, shame or disgust after binge eating

People who regularly eat this way are likely to be diagnosed with a binge eating disorder.

Treating binge eating

Binge eating is a treatable condition and a number of different treatment options are available. For example, treatments include:

If you are overweight, a healthcare professional may draw up a weight loss plan once any psychological issues have been dealt with. This is to help you lose weight in a safe and effective way.

People can recover from binge eating if they can understand the psychological issues causing their condition, adopt regular eating patterns and receive realistic advice about food.

Read more about how binge eating is treated.

Page last reviewed: 14/11/2012

Next review due: 14/11/2014

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Comments

The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Twisterbabe said on 22 July 2014

I have just been diagnosed with binge eating disorder, I have been prescribed fluoxetine and referred to an eating disorder specialist for CBT. My gp has been absolutely fantastic and the mental health nurse who referred me has been very sensitive to my needs and my emotions.

I don't know why I do it yet but the binges are big and occur 4 times a week. I'm just hoping that the new treatment helps and the CBT when I start it.

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lolalu said on 24 June 2014

I know why I binge eat, I can pin point the exact moment that triggered it, although first I coped by taking drugs to mask the pain, them when I gave them up I moved on to drink, when I gave that up it was smoking and when I gave that up it became food and this is the hardest addiction to kick. My GP is helpful and referred me to my local eating disorders clinic but they will not help me as the funding for their service does not cover people who do not purge. I find this strange as the knock on effect health wise of binge eating could cost the NHS more in the long run, if only they would treat the cause instead of the symptoms, I don’t want pills to lift my mood that will probably give me unpleasant side effects I want help to kill it at the root. I know my issue is psychological caused by trauma and every day I look in the mirror I hate seeing what I have done to myself over a period of 20 years because of it. I kept what happened to me a secret for a very long time and only last year had some therapy that allowed me to admit the fact to myself, family and friends that I have a problem. I am so concerned about what the binge eating is doing to my health, I don’t want to be fat anymore and everyday I wake up and say today is the day I’m going to change and maybe for a couple of days I eat normal but it takes just one thing and it can be something really small and I’m off to the junk food section and home to scoff the lot. Diet and exercise is not a solution for binge eating and often as mine the binging is a coping mechanism for a problem that is so deep rooted it takes intensive therapy to create a healthy new coping strategy. I know what I need to help change my pattern of behaviour I just have no idea where to get it on the NHS. I am in the Coventry area so if anyone knows of help for binge eating in this area that is NHS funded please let me know, I don’t want to carry on the way I am but I need professional help to break the cycle.

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lmk1993 said on 16 June 2014

I'm so glad I found this page! It's sad but reassuring that I'm not going through this alone.

From about the age of 18 I have had issues with food. I had recently lost a loved one to cancer and my first relationship ended all of a sudden. I appreciated my friends and family for trying to help me but all that seemed to comfort me to start with was food. After I ate, the comfort was replaced with guilt and I'd cry myself to sleep about it. In my head, I told myself it was a phase and it would pass...

From the fact I am writing this just proves how wrong I was. I was binging around twice a week and I ended putting on a stone in four weeks! I decided that enough was enough and I plucked up the courage to see my GP. Some help that was!
The doctor said my issue was due to my lack of willpower and insisted that I diet and excersise regularly. I'd like to point out that I walk four miles a day and I do toning excercises every day, but the doctor didn't believe me. "You wouldn't be the weight you are if that was true"

So I started dieting, which to start with I felt great! I felt so commited to lose weight and it felt nice having some delf-control back. But of course, this didn't last long. If anything negative happened that day: any rows, stressful day at work etc. the urges to binge would come thick and strong. After about two weeks of dieting I ate one thing that was not part of my diet and I hated myself! I ended up going to the shop, filling the basket with the usual foods and ate to the point that I purged for the first and only time. There have been times where I've considered purging again but I can't bring myself to do it.

I'm now 21 and it hasn't improved, it's gotten worse! I end up binging twice a day (once on the way to work and once on the way back so my family don't notice) I do pilates and swimming on a regular basis but at times my arthritis can cause problems with that! I gone to several doctors but they all say the same- I'm fat

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alicee1991 said on 13 March 2014

In an odd sort of way, I'm relieved this kind of thing exists. I'm sick of people just thinking that binge eating is a choice someone makes and it's all because they "lack self control". I have had this for 4 years and although people who love me know I do it, they have never offered to help me- instead it's comment making and 'stop it'. It's not that easy. I feel so ashamed and I hate myself so much that I don't feel worthy of getting help for something I've '"done to myself". After all, I must only be upset because of a "guilty conscience"'- I can't get over this alone. But just knowing that I'm not alone is a massive comfort, and knowing that BED is an actual thing helps.

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Stephanie2014 said on 10 March 2014

I'm 19 and have had a binge eating problem since I was 16. I'm not sure why I do it, mainly when I find out I've lost weight; for some reason I think its OK to binge then the next day I feel down and disgusted with myself. When I do binge eat I want to make myself sick but I physically can't. I'm trying to lose weight but I always sabotage myself when I do. I'm not over weight; just want to be a certain size but this problem is so annoying! just put the fork down!

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Dagger87 said on 27 February 2014

They say the first part of getting over an addiction is admitting it. The second is getting help.

In December last year I finally felt able to admit this problem to friends family and work. I went to see my GP and was advised to switch from crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks to fruit and seek help from my local fresh start team again.

On doing this, I wasn't deemed suitable for counselling so I quickly fell back into bad habits.

After a lengthy wait and appeal I was accepted back into counselling. Following a lengthy discussion with my employers, I was advised to go back to the doctors to ask to be referred to an eating disorder clinic.

I did this and the locum was very good and referred me straight away - only for me to be phoned two days later to be told it wouldn't be happening.

Instead I had to go for blood tests and at the results appointment was told I had to wait until my counselling had finished before I'd even be considered. I feel fobbed off by this. I've also been told that if I was anorexic or bulimic I'd be referred straight away. Disgusting.

Thankfully my well being practitioner at counselling is putting it up to his management team to see if I can be referred through them.

If you have a problem - go and get yourself seen. You will end up feeling like David when he took on Goliath. Not only are you fighting your own problems, but you will end up taking on an administrative empire completely alone, who will wrap you up in red tape and pass the buck as often as they possibly can. Probably in the hope that if they treat you like a hot potato for long enough, that you'll end up eating yourself!

Seriously NHS with obesity and eating disorders becoming an ever growing problem, you should be backing people who want to make positive permanent changes, not fobbing them off. Seriously considering talking to PALS and taking the trust head on. If I absurd alcohol or drugs, everyone would be poring over themselves to be the first to help.

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User751612 said on 26 February 2013

I am 17 and developed binge eating at the same time my anxiety kicked-off at the age of 15. in one year alone I put on 3 stone.

No, there are no NHS treatments for binge eating itself, but there are for the disorders that cause it, binge eating is mostly only a side effect of other illnesses.

Secondly what would you suppose they do? science hasn't managed to come up with a cure so the only other thing would be to keep us in hospital and monitor what we eat, which would take up unnecessarily room

Anorexic people are kept in because they may die, and are released once they are at a suitable weight, not until their anorexia is cured

I came across this web page to see how others have dealt with their binge eating because at the end of the day it is listed as a mental health disorder above, therefore the only person that can do anything about it is the sufferer

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Droylsden62 said on 02 July 2012

There is no nhs treatment for binge eating disorder, only for anorexia. Apparently, us fat people have done it to ourselves and should have more self discipline. Guess there's no real need for slimming clubs then, if all that is required is a little self discipline!

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Clay0506 said on 03 March 2012

I'm 19, and developed binge eating disorder around the time I hit puberty. I moved to France to work the year before I started university and the problem got much much worse. I have since started Skype-calling a therapist and working with Cognitive Behavioral therapy, which has really helped, and which I believe will cure me.

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Trieste said on 27 December 2011

I came off my SSRI Citalopram because I didn't like the idea of being on an " anti depressant" although I actually am on them as " anti panic " medication. I make no apologies for needing a fairly low dose of these meds as I have the trauma of an elderly relative with Dementia at one end of things and a son with addictions at the other end of life. Anyway, I was OK for a few months without the SSRI then the panic came back witha vengeance as Insomnia, IBS and misery so I'm now back on the meds with full acceptance of who I am and my need of a little help at this moment in time.
After all Diabetics take Insulin and those with Thyroid problems Thyroxin without feeling guilty and so we must not beat ourselves up for needing to restore the serotonin levels in our brain when these become depleted by stress.
Life is not a competition!
Hope this helps someone out there!

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ronnie2001 said on 09 September 2011

I was taking anti depressants until about 7 or 8 weeks ago, after taking them for about 4 years. I stopped taking them after I bought a kitten, and he gives me so much joy, that I gave them up as I felt good and didn't want to take them any more. I know that I should have weaned myself off them, however, I just stopped and have felt no side effects whatsoever, apart for mild light headedness and dizziness during the first week I stopped them.

However for the last 9 months or so, I have found to my dismay, that I seem to have developed binge eating, and over the last 6 months or so I have gained about a stone and a half.

Its been far worse over the last 2 months or so, when I just want to eat, especially after I get home from work, when I know I wont be seeing anyone, and that I have the whole night to get over the effects, i.e. uncomfortably full stomach and feeling bloated.

I don't want to eat, I don't feel hungry, and I know I don't need it, but I have to have it, things like a quick fix of cold baked beans, toast and marmite, a huge bowl of cereal, with lots of sugar, etc etc.

Its awful, because I say to myself, I am not going to do this anymore, but always end up stuffing myself, and then feeling SO bad, guilty, ashamed, and disgusted, so much so that I swear to myself the next day I will not do it anymore, and then go on and eat something else to 'make me feel better', knowing full well I will feel horrible again immediately after, and so it goes on. I haven't got to the point of wanting to make my self sick, but it has passed in to my thoughts on occasions.

There are things going on i my life which is causing me a great deal of worry, (not health problems), but I feel I am in control of it so I don't know why I am binge eating. Any suggestions, that would not include taking anti depressants, would be helpful.

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Overcoming eating disorders

Find out about eating disorders and the support available for people who have problems with food

Eating disorders: advice for parents

Get advice on how to cope if your child has an eating disorder, including what to expect and dealing with mealtimes