Binge Eating Disorders (BED).

Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by frequently eating large amounts of food in short periods (binges). Binge eating disorder affects millions of lives, silently taking its toll on individuals’ physical and emotional well-being. A combination of family history, self-control and self-image issues, and emotional trauma may cause BED. Treatment often involves psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication for addressing co-occurring mental illnesses like depression.

What is a Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is not just about overeating occasionally. It’s a relentless cycle of consuming excessive amounts of food within a short span, around two and a half hours. While this might not seem problematic, it can become a medical condition when done regularly enough to cause physical and mental problems.

A person must binge eat at least once a week for three months to be diagnosed.

What is the Difference Between Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa?

People diagnosed with BED often engage in behaviors linked to bulimia nervosa, like taking extreme compensatory actions to reduce their weight after an episode of binge eating. Other behaviors include using laxatives or diuretics, self-induced vomiting, exercising beyond their physical limits, and fad dieting.

It’s crucial to distinguish between BED and bulimia nervosa. While both involve binge eating, bulimia often intensifies with harmful compensatory behaviors. Some people with BED may engage in them, but others may not.

Finally, compensatory behaviors are an essential element of bulimia, but not of BED.

Causes of Binge Eating Disorders

There’s no single cause that can be attributed to BED. It’s usually a combination of:

  • Genetics
  • Changes in the brain related to self-control
  • Body image and self-esteem issues
  • Social pressure
  • Emotional trauma
  • Other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorders

The difference between BED and eating a lot, like at a party or during the holidays, is how often people with BED binge eat.

Psychological and Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Continuing to eat even after you’re full
  • Eating extremely fast and not taking the time to taste the food
  • Inability to slow down or stop once the binge starts, even after recognizing how unhealthy the behavior can be
  • Being afraid to eat in public
  • Hoarding food in unusual places
  • Yo-Yo dieting
  • Feelings of guilt, shame or disgust after eating
  • Depression
  • Eating a lot even if you aren’t hungry
  • Distancing yourself from your friends
  • Changing your schedule to make room for binging
  • Extreme concern with your weight and looks

Physiological Symptoms and Potential Health Risks:

BED often comes with various physical and physiological consequences that can compromise your long-term health, including:

  • Increased risk of diabetes and weight-related health problems
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Asthma
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Chronic pain conditions
  • Obesity

Treatment for Binge Eating Disorders

Patients with BED can control their condition through various treatment options and lifestyle changes. Often, combining multiple approaches yields the best results, but the exact strategies vary on a case-by-case basis.


Psychotherapy can be an excellent treatment option to manage the mental health side of BED, helping patients understand the roots of their habits and develop newer, healthier ones. Some psychotherapy options for BED include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT helps patients restructure their negative thoughts into positive or neutral ones. It also allows them to analyze the relationship between their thoughts, eating habits, body shape, and weight.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)

IPT reaches into memories and past experiences to find the root of an eating disorder. Common causes include trauma, grief, or significant life changes. IPT assumes BED is a coping mechanism people develop to deal with other issues. Patients can take IPT and CBT simultaneously with positive results.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT also sees binge eating as a stress response and can teach patients alternative, positive ways to handle stress and negative emotions.


Medication-related treatment options for BED are limited, as eating disorders primarily revolve around behaviors. However, as BED tends to co-occur with other mental conditions, such as anxiety and depression, medications like antidepressants can improve a patient’s mental health and minimize symptoms or make them more manageable.

Lifestyle Changes

Treatment strategies that combine psychotherapy with lifestyle changes will always be more effective. Your healthcare provider may connect you with a nutritionist who can coach you on improving your nutrition, balancing your eating habits, and developing a specialized menu if your physical health asks for it.

Other changes you can make include reducing stress, exercising daily, and adjusting your sleeping habits to ensure you get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.

Preventing Binge Eating Disorders

Preventing BED starts with education and self-awareness. Parents, in particular, play a vital role in fostering healthy relationships with food from a young age. It’s important to instill good eating habits, such as maintaining a balanced diet, observing a regular eating schedule, and teaching them that looks and weight are not indicators of personal value.

Adults should also watch for these behaviors in themselves. Be wary of social media and fad diets. People who promote “easy” but highly restrictive diets (cutting out entire food groups, excessive fasting, only drinking all day, diet pills and shakes, etc.) often do so with financial motivations.

When it comes to your health and body, prioritize listening to yourself and your healthcare providers.

Outlook for Binge Eating Disorders

Around 11% of women and 7.5% of men struggle with a binge eating disorder. In the US, at least 40% of the estimated million Americans with a binge eating disorder are men.
BED, like all eating disorders, is a condition that can severely affect a person’s health and life in general.

There are effective treatment options and lifestyle adjustments you can make today to minimize binge eating sessions and get to the root of this condition. Keeping a food diary, starting a mild exercise routine like walking for 10 to 30 minutes daily, and discussing your thoughts with someone you trust can create meaningful change in how you see yourself and how you feel.
BED is not a moral failing or a lack of willpower. It is a serious mental health condition. If you or someone you know displays symptoms of BED, remember that treatment is possible and very effective.

Related Conditions

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa

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