Binge eating disorder

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

People with binge eating disorder have uncontrollable binges on excessive amounts of food until they feel uncomfortably full. Find out about the warning signs and symptoms and how to get help.

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder where you eat a lot of food quickly and don’t feel in control of what you’re doing. Binge eating can be distressing, and you might find it hard to stop eating, even if you want to and you feel full.

Symptoms of binge eating disorder

The main symptom of BED is eating a lot more food than someone would normally eat in a short time and not being able to stop. Other binging symptoms include:

  • Eating very quickly

  • Binging in secret or alone

  • Buying special foods and planning a binge like a ritual

BED is a mental health condition. You might notice psychological symptoms like:

  • Feeling disconnected from what you’re doing, or not fully remembering your binge

  • Feeling low, ashamed or disgusted with yourself after a binge

  • Irritability and mood swings

  • Lack of confidence and low self-esteem

Physical symptoms of binge eating can include:

  • Tiredness and sleeping problems

  • Stomach problems, like bloating, constipation and stomach pain

BED differs from bulimia as the binges are not followed by actions to get rid of the food, such as vomiting.

Health risks and complications

Sometimes, BED can lead to more serious health risks, including:

  • Weight gain and obesity

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Heart disease

  • Mental health issues, like anxiety, depression and low self-esteem

Warning signs of binge eating disorder

If you’re worried that someone you know might have BED look out for the following signs:

  • Hiding how much they’re eating

  • Eating lots of food very quickly

  • Buying or storing large amounts of food

  • Gaining weight

  • Lack of interest in relationships and activities

What causes binge eating disorder?

People often binge to help them cope with overwhelming feelings and emotions. BED can be linked to:

  • Having a family history of eating disorders or depression

  • Criticism of your weight, body shape or eating habits

  • Feeling pressure to be a certain weight – often from a job such as modelling, dancing or sports – or from peers

  • Feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, low self-esteem or loneliness

  • Sexual abuse

Diagnosing binge eating disorder

It can feel daunting to talk to a doctor about binge eating but remember that this is a serious eating disorder. Your doctor is there to offer help, and you won’t be judged or blamed.

It might help to take a friend or relative along or to write down some questions and notes about your symptoms before you go.

The doctor will ask about your eating habits and any symptoms, look at your overall health and check your weight. If they think you may have an eating disorder, you’ll be referred to a specialist team.

Recognising BED as a serious eating disorder

It’s common to assume that you have to be underweight to have an eating disorder, but that’s not always the case. Anyone of any weight can have an eating disorder, and some – such as BED – can sometimes involve weight gain rather than weight loss.

Like any eating disorder, BED is a serious mental illness. It’s important to get the right support and therapy to understand how to stop binge eating and fully recover.

Binge eating disorder treatment

Most people with BED recover with the right support and treatment. Talking therapy will help you address the reasons why you’re binge eating and understand how to stop binge eating by changing your negative patterns of behaviour.

Types of treatment can include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – addressing the thoughts and feelings behind your eating disorder and learning to change your behaviour.

Guided self-help – working through self-help materials with a therapist to help you learn about the triggers that make you binge, make new meal plans and find ways to cope with your feelings.

Self-help and support groups – getting support by talking to others in a similar situation and sharing your own experiences with them.

If you’re also experiencing other conditions, like anxiety or depression, your doctor may recommend antidepressants to help to treat these.

Self-care measures, like yoga, meditation and regular exercise, are also a positive way to help you feel more in control of managing your stress levels and boosting your wellbeing.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi