Binge eating disorder involves periods of excessive overeating. It often occurs with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

IBinge eating disorder (BED) can affect anyone regardless of sex, gender, or age. However, it is most common during early adulthood.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, BED is the most common type of eating disorder in the United States.

The BED cycle of eating can be a way of dealing with emotional problems and be a symptom of an underlying mental health condition.

This article details the symptoms, causes, and treatments of BED.

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Many people may overeat on occasion, especially on holidays or at festive celebrations. However, this is not BED.

Overheating becomes a disorder when it occurs regularly, leads to feelings of shame, and affects daily life. Unlike eating for pleasure, BED often stems from an emotional or mental health or medical issue.

It is more common in females than males and cooccurs with a mental health disorder in approximately 79% of cases.

BED involves episodes of consuming larger amounts of food than normal at least every week, for three months or more.

This habit of overeating can take a number of forms, including:

  • eating much more quickly than usual
  • eating until the person feels too full
  • eating a lot when not hungry
  • eating alone, due to embarrassment about the quantity
  • feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after eating

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition (DSM–5), added binge eating disorder to its list of mental health diagnoses in 2013.

For a diagnosis of binge eating disorder, the person must binge eat at least once a week for 3 months or more, according to the DSM–5.


With BED there is a risk of weight gain, leading to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other complications.

A person with binge eating disorder may also:

  • feel that the eating behavior is uncontrollable
  • diet frequently but find it difficult to keep to the diet or to lose weight
  • plan a binge and buy special food in advance
  • hoard food
  • hide empty food containers
  • have feelings of panic, a lack of focus, anxiety, and despair

BED often stems from an underlying mental health problem. Conditions that commonly occur with binge eating include:

It can also lead to further emotional challenges. The individual may experience a cycle of guilt in which they:

  • feel despair at being trapped
  • feel guilt
  • attempt self-discipline
  • engage in more periods of overeating

Low self-esteem is a common underlying factor in eating disorders, including overeating. This can lead to self-blame and further damage to self-esteem.

BED can seriously impact a person’s mental and physical health. Anyone who notices that they are compulssed to eat large amounts of food should see a doctor, even if their weight is healthy.

A doctor may also do some tests to check for additional medical conditions, such as heart or gallbladder problems. These and other issues can result from binge eating.

People often find it hard to tell someone — including a doctor — that they have BED. However, treatment can help resolve uncontrolled eating habits and any underlying emotional issues that may be causing them.

The person may have feelings of embarrassment and isolation. Addressing underlying issues, such as anxiety and depression, can help to solve the problem.

The exact cause of binge eating disorder is unclear, but biological factors, personality traits, and environmental influences — such as body shaming — may all contribute.

Researchers have linked a number of risk factors with binge eating disorder:

  • Age: Binge eating disorder can happen at any age, but the first signs of binge often start in the late teens or early twenties.
  • Personal and family history: Family environments can foster negative relationships with food, increasing the risk of a person developing an eating disorder.
  • Social environment: The focus of the media, including social media, on body shape, appearance, and weight may be a trigger for binge eating disorder.
  • Other eating disorders: People who have or have had another eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, have at a higher risk of developing binge eating disorder.
  • Related conditions: Some medical conditions, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, can trigger binge eating.
  • Dieting: According to the OWH, women who diet are 12 times more likely to have a binge eating disorder compared with those who do not diet.
  • Mental health issues: Stress, anxiety, anger, depression, and anxiety can increase the risk of an eating disorder.
  • Sexual abuse: Statistics suggest up to 35% of females and 16% of males with a binge eating disorder have experienced sexual trauma.

Treatment usually aims to reduce the frequency of binges and improve emotional well-being.

Treatment for an eating disorder often involves several aspects.

  • Talk therapy: Talking therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help a person to address feelings such as guilt, shame, and low self-esteem, as well as anxiety, depression, and other issues.
  • Nutrition counseling: Working with a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders can help people to create sustainable eating habits and food plans.
  • Medication: A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant, may treat underlying mental health conditions.
  • Support groups: Joining and attending self-help and support groups can help to remove a sense of isolation.

The American Psychological Association (APA) urge anyone who is concerned that they may have a binge-eating disorder to seek help from a licensed psychologist who specializes in eating disorders.

Is it important to seek help because the consequences of any eating disorder, including binge eating, can be serious, but treatment — although it can take time — can help.