Binge eating disorder

Overview

Binge eating disorder is an illness where people overeat on a regular basis.

A binge is an episode of excessive eating or drinking. People who binge eat very large quantities of food over a short period of time, even when they're not hungry.

Signs of binge eating disorder

Signs of binge eating disorder include:

  • eating much faster than normal during a binge
  • eating until you feel uncomfortably full
  • eating a large amount of food when you're not hungry
  • eating alone or secretly because you're embarrassed about the amount of food you're consuming
  • having feelings of guilt, shame or disgust after binge eating

People who regularly eat this way are likely to have a binge eating disorder.

What happens during a binge

Binges are often planned in advance and the person may buy "special" binge foods.

Sometimes, a person will describe being in a "dazed state" during a binge – particularly binges at night – and not being able to remember what they ate.

The person often feels they have no control over their eating.

Getting help

If you occasionally binge eat, it doesn't necessarily mean you have a binge eating disorder.

But see your GP if you binge regularly, particularly if it's affecting your physical and/or mental health. With the right treatment and support, most people get better.

Beat is a UK-based charity that provides help and support for people with eating disorders. You can contact them either by phone or email:

Both helplines are open every day of the year from 4pm to 10pm.

You can also find out more about Beat's support services.

Treating binge eating

The main treatments for binge eating are:

  • self-help programmes – this may be individually, using a book or online course, or as part of a self-help support group
  • guided self-help (self-help supervised by regular contact with a professional)
  • specialist group intervention
  • individual (one-to-one) psychological therapy 
  • medication called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

Read more about treating binge eating disorder.

What causes binge eating?

It's not clear what causes binge eating, but, like most eating disorders, it's seen as a way of coping with feelings of unhappiness and low self-esteem.

Factors that may increase your risk of binge eating include:

  • having low self-esteem and a lack of confidence
  • depression or anxiety
  • feelings of stress, anger, boredom or loneliness
  • dissatisfaction with your body and feeling under pressure to be thin
  • stressful or traumatic events in your past
  • having a family history of eating disorders

Binge eating can sometimes develop following a strict diet, particularly if you skipped meals, cut out certain foods and didn't eat enough food. These are unhealthy ways to lose weight and may mean you're more likely to binge at another time.  

Who's affected

Anyone can be affected by binge eating disorder, although it's slightly more common in women than men.

Binge eating disorder tends to first develop during early adulthood, but many people don't seek help until they're in their 30s or 40s.

It's estimated that you have a 1 in 30 to 1 in 50 chance of developing binge eating disorder at some point in life.

Health risks of binge eating

Binge eating is often associated with serious psychological problems, including depression and anxiety which may get worse if you continue to binge eat.

Weight gain is a common physical effect of binge eating, which can lead to obesity. Being obese puts you at risk of getting a number of serious physical health problems, including:

Page last reviewed: 16/01/2017
Next review due: 16/01/2020