Binge Eating Disorder

 What is Binge Eating Disorder 

Binge eating disorder, or BED, is a dangerous eating disorder characterized by eating large amounts of food in a short time. A person with binge eating disorder experiences a loss of control and binges on a large amounts of food in a time span of about two hours. After an episode, the person will feel shame and guilt for the amount of food they ate.

These binges are similar to someone with bulimia but a person with binge eating disorder does not necessarily “purge” their food. This means, they don’t throw it back up or self induce vomiting. In some cases of BED they may throw up after a binge because of how sick they feel or the intense shame, but it is not necessarily present.

A person with binge eating disorder will have their mental health effected. They feel emotional distress during and after the binge and this distress interferes with their daily life. They get emotional comfort for a very short time from the food but it doesn’t last. Unlike bulimia, after a binge a person with BED doesn’t try to “fix it”. This means, they don’t throw up or use excessive exercise. Because of this, most people with binge eating disorder are overweight.

The weight gain from binge eating disorder furthers the pattern of shame, disgust, and overeating. These negative feelings lead people with BED to turn to food to cope with their anxiety and depression and the cycle continues.

In order to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder, a person must have 1-2 episodes of overeating food for a period of six months.

Overeating or Binge Definition 

To binge means to overindulge in something to the point of excess. In binge eating disorder this would mean overindulging in food.

Now, I’m sure many of us have eaten something good way past the point of being full, but this isn’t what we are talking about when we use the term “overeating”. Overeating, by definition, means eating more than your body needs in order to sustain itself.  A person with BED will eat so much in a relatively short time that it seems almost impossible.

Other Eating Disorders 

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder where a person has an unhealthy obsession with weight gain. A person with anorexia nervosa will limit food intake at all costs and never be satisfied with their weight no matter how low it gets. Also, a person with anorexia is usually unconcerned with the health risks associated with their low weight.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is when a person binge eats regularly followed by purging. This purging can be vomiting after eating, taking laxatives to rid the body of food, or excessive exercise. These eating behaviors have strong negative effects on health.

Muscle dysmorphia

Muscle dysmorphia mostly effects males and is a preoccupation with thinking the body is too small. It is characterized by lifting weights excessively and an unhealthy obsession with building muscle mass.

Compulsive overeating

Compulsive overeating is when a person continuously eats large quantities of food not in a binge. This can be disordered eating as well.

Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms 

Because of the shame a person with binge eating disorder feels, they may keep their disorder secret. But there are signs to look out for.

Also, binge eating disorder wasn’t categorized as an official disorder until 2013, but now it is in the DSM-5 and there are diagnostic criteria for doctors to use when diagnosing the disorder.

Here are some symptoms of BED. They fall into two categories, behavioral symptoms and emotional symptoms.

Behavioral symptoms of binge eating disorder:

  • Inability to control what food you’re eating
  • Inability to stop eating
  • Eating normally around other people but binging alone
  • Hoarding food to eat later
  • Eating large amounts of food when you’re full
  • Eating alone to hide habits
  • Eating faster than is normal
  • Dieting and extreme fluctuations in weight

Emotional symptoms of binge eating disorder:

  • Feeling anxiety that is only relieved by eating large quantities of food
  • Desperation to control weight gain
  • Extreme guilt or shame after binge
  • Never feeling satisfied no matter how much you eat
  • Feeling numb while eating
  • Eating alone because of embarrassment of eating with others
  • Low self esteem

Health Concerns of Binge Eating Disorder

As you can imagine, all this bingeing and huge quantities of food can take a toll on your body. There are health concerns associated with binge eating disorder. It is common for people with BED to be clinically obese and struggle with heart disease and type two diabetes.

Insomnia and sleep apnea are also common with binge eating disorder. People with BED are also at risk for high blood pressure and gall bladder issues.

Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts are also common with binge eating disorder. The distress experienced by food is intensely strong and low self esteem can lead to depression.

How To Stop Binge Eating 

In many ways, recovery from binge eating disorder is a recovery from addiction. But, instead of substance abuse, the addiction is food. The most difficult part of this is that food is a necessary part of living, so it’s not like a person with BED can just ignore their trigger. They will have to come face to face with it daily.

One helpful way to stop binge eating is to listen to your body and identify your triggers. If junk food will lead you to want to binge, try to focus on eating healthy options.

Also, the decision to stop trying to diet can be helpful with binge eating disorder. This is because, with the weight gain from bingeing a person may want to diet but, a diet can lead right back to the need to binge. The diet triggers the need to overeat.

Instead of dieting, try to practice eating in moderation throughout the day. This way, you aren’t craving anything and can still maintain a healthy life style.

Now, all of these things are great but if you are struggling with BED, the best way to stop binge eating is to get help. It is a hard thing to deal with on your own and a medical professional would be an important ally. The two most common ways to move past an eating disorder are medication and therapy.

Binge Eating Disorder Treatments


There are some medications that have been shown to help people with eating disorders.


Vyvanse is a medication for ADHD which has recently gone through trials and is seen to be effective in treating people with moderate to severe BED. It’s the first and only medication shown to treat binge eating disorder. In clinical trials it reduced the binge eating days in those that were taking it.

It is important to note it is not a weight loss pill and does not help with weight loss. But, it has been effective for some people with binge eating disorder.


SSRI inhibitors like Prozac are also used to treat BED. Prozac helps to improve mood and prevent binges. It is also helpful for those suffering from anxiety and depression.


Zoloft is also an SSRI used to treat binge eating disorder. It is similar to prozac and helps with anxiety and depression. Sometimes, alleviating this symptoms helps to diminish binges in patients.


Another important treatment for eating disorders is therapy. It is important to get to the root cause of why a person is binging in the first place. There is  a lot of emotional turmoil associated with binge eating disorder and therapy is a necessary step to treat it.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very effective in dealing with binge eating disorder. It helps patients to identify their negative patterns of thought and recognize them. Learning new patterns of thinking with a medical professional is a way to ensure health moving forward.

Eating Disorder Support Groups

Eating disorder support groups are a great treatment available to those with binge eating disorder. As many people with BED have shame around their disease and deal with it in private, finally having a community to talk to can be a life changer. A routine of meeting with a support group once a week is a positive way to deal with your disorder.


A very helpful organization for someone struggling with an eating disorder is NEDA, the National Eating Disorder Association. They have a thriving online community and centers you can reach out to for help. It’s important to remember you are not alone and a community like NEDA can provide support as you move forward with treatment.

Eating Disorder Statistics 

Around 2 percent of adults in the US have binge eating disorder. This is about 5 million people in the US alone suffering from BED.

Statistics for women tend to be higher than the general population. About 4 percent of women will struggle with anorexia nervosa in their lifetime, and 2 percent with bulimia and binge eating disorder.

In total with all disorders considered, about 30 million people in the US suffer from an eating disorder. Also, every 62 minutes a person dies from an eating disorder or complications from an eating disorder.

These statistics are harrowing and another reason to reach out for help if you suffer from one and remember you are not alone.

Binge Eating Disorder: Final Thoughts 

Binge eating disorder is a fairly common disorder that most hide in secret. The shame and anxiety people with BED have effects their mental health and leads them to have the highest risk of suicide of all eating disorders. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Treatments are available and the most important thing a person with BED can have is support.

If you think a friend is suffering, reach out. Or, if you are suffering, reach out to friends, family, or a medical professional.


Binge Eating Disorder

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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