Binge eating means
eating large amounts of food in a short time. A person with binge eating
disorder binges regularly for several months. When you binge, you feel like you
can't control your eating, and you feel unhappy about it afterward.
Binge eating disorder is not the same thing as
bulimia. Unlike bulimia, if you have binge eating
disorder, you don't vomit or try other ways to get rid of calories. But you
might try to limit how much food you eat between binges. Binge eating disorder
is sometimes called compulsive overeating.
Some people who binge
have a normal weight. But over time, many people who have binge eating disorder
gain weight and have problems from being
obese. People with binge eating disorder also often
anxiety, or other emotional problems.
eating disorder isn't a sign of weakness or a
character flaw. And it is not something you can overcome with just willpower.
Many people struggle with eating disorders for a long time. Some people try to
keep it a secret or deny that they have a problem. In most cases, you will need
treatment to get better. If you have binge eating disorder, treatment can
prevent health problems, help you feel better about yourself, and improve the
quality of your life.
not sure what causes binge eating disorder, but it seems to run in families.
Cultural attitudes about body shape and weight might also play a
role. Anxiety, depression, or
stress can cause some people to binge.
From time to time, most of
us feel like we have eaten more than we should. But eating too much every now
and then does not mean that you have binge eating disorder. If you have binge
eating disorder, you may:
Even if you don't have all the symptoms of binge eating
disorder, having even a few symptoms can be a sign of a problem that needs
treatment. It is important to get help right away if you or someone you know
has any of these symptoms.
can find out if you have binge eating disorder by doing a physical exam and
asking questions about your eating habits and past health. Your doctor may also
ask questions about your mental health and how you feel about food and the
shape of your body.
Treatment for binge eating
disorder includes getting
counseling and, in some cases, taking medicine. Your doctor may have you do both. You may need treatment for a
long time to fully recover. You also may need treatment for other problems that
often occur with binge eating disorder. These can include depression, obesity,
or problems with being overweight.
disorder most often starts in the late teens or the young-adult years. It is
more common in women than men.
Binge eating disorder can be triggered by
dieting, depression, or anxiety. It can even start because of boredom or
stress, which is then relieved by binging. Your risk for binge eating increases
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about binge eating disorder:
If you have
binge eating disorder, you:
If you have binge eating disorder, you also have three (or
more) of the following symptoms:
Common personality traits found in those who have binge
eating disorder and other
eating disorders include low self-esteem and excessive concern about body
size and shape.
Binge eating disorder is different from
bulimia, because people with binge eating disorder do
not regularly vomit or use other ways to get rid of calories. For more
information on bulimia, which also is called "binge-purge disorder," see the
Some people eat very
little during the day but eat very large amounts of food in the evening and at
night. This is called
night eating syndrome.
Many people who
have an eating disorder also struggle with depression or
anxiety disorders. It can be difficult to treat binge
eating disorder if these other conditions are not also treated.
Frequent binge eating can cause you to gain a large amount of weight, even
though you might try to restrict your food intake between binges. People with
binge eating disorder often try to follow strict diets. But dieting does not
stop the binging for the long term and might actually make the problem worse.
You might feel so discouraged at times that you stop trying to
control your eating disorder altogether. One binge might merge into the next,
with no period of normal eating in between.
Although you might not
have all of the symptoms of binge eating disorder, even a few symptoms can be a
sign of a problem that needs treatment. If you have any of these symptoms, or
someone you know does, talk to a doctor, friend, or family member
about your concerns right away.
binge eating disorder by doing a
physical exam and asking questions about your
medical history and eating habits. Your doctor also
might do a
mental health assessment, which is an evaluation of
your emotions and how well you think, reason, and remember.
Binge eating disorder often is associated with being overweight. Your doctor
might use a tool called the
body mass index (BMI) to look at how much you weigh
compared with your height.
binge eating disorder includes counseling and
sometimes medicine. Goals in treating binge eating often include:
Most people with binge eating disorder need treatment, but
many people who have an
eating disorder try to keep it secret or deny that
they have a problem. Some might join weight management programs to lose weight
but do not seek treatment for binging or for mental health problems related to
the condition. It often is a family member or friend who convinces the person
to seek treatment.
If you think that you or someone you know
might have an eating disorder, talk to your doctor. Signs of an eating disorder
that needs treatment include binges, concern or embarrassment about eating
behaviors, secretive eating habits, preoccupation with weight or body image, or
an unhealthy body weight because of eating problems.
Several types of
counseling can be useful in treating eating disorders.
Antidepressants sometimes are used in the treatment of
binge eating disorder. They may reduce episodes of binge
eating and they may help with related
Topiramate (Topamax), which is a
medicine used to treat seizures and chronic pain, is sometimes used to reduce the urge to binge.
Medicines and counseling may help
you quit binging and lose excess weight. But this will take some time and
patience. Some people find that they still have trouble losing excess weight,
even after they stop binging. Talk to your doctor about what results are
realistic to expect from treatment.
Unfortunately, many people don't seek treatment for mental health
problems. You may not seek treatment because you think the symptoms are not bad
enough or that you can work things out on your own. But getting treatment is
If you need help deciding whether to see your doctor,
read about some reasons why people don't get help and how to
Continuing healthy habits at home can
binge eating disorder.
It is helpful when family members are
supportive of their loved one who has binge eating
disorder. Learning about the disorder will be useful for the entire family.
In many cases, eating disorders are associated with poor body
image and low self-esteem. Parents can help reduce the chances that their
children will develop an
eating disorder by teaching them to have:
For more information, see the topic
Healthy Eating for Children.
Other treatments can help reduce binge eating.
These are organized programs that provide self-help materials such as manuals
or computer-based activities that can be useful in treating eating disorders.
But most people who have an eating disorder also need counseling and possibly
Stress management techniques.
Many people report that their binging episodes are triggered by feelings of
anxiety or tension. Although not part of the treatment
of binge eating disorder, relieving stress can help during recovery and can
improve quality of life. Techniques to reduce stress include:
For more information on stress reduction, see the topic
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Mental Health America (formerly known as the National
Mental Health Association) is a nonprofit agency devoted to helping people of
all ages live mentally healthier lives. Its website has information about
mental health conditions. It also addresses issues such as grief, stress,
bullying, and more. It includes a confidential depression screening test for
anyone who would like to take it. The short test may help you decide whether
your symptoms are related to depression.
This association distributes listings of therapists and
hospitals that work with people who have eating disorders. It sends out
materials and also offers support groups, conferences, and a crisis
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a large
nonprofit organization in the United States dedicated to the prevention of
eating disorders. NEDA helps educate people with eating disorders and their
families about their conditions and also provides information for health
professionals. The organization's Web site will help you locate treatment
referrals for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and issues surrounding
body image and weight.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provides
information to help people better understand mental health, mental disorders,
and behavioral problems. NIMH does not provide referrals to mental health
professionals or treatment for mental health problems.
The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a
service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. WIN supplies information
on weight control, obesity, and nutritional disorders for the public and for
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August 25, 2011
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & W. Stewart Agras, MD, FRCPC - Psychiatry
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