Binge Eating Disorder

Occasional overindulgence in food during holidays or special events is common, but frequent overeating might indicate Binge Eating Disorder. This condition goes beyond occasional indulgence, impacting physical and emotional well-being. Recognising signs in yourself or a loved one is crucial for seeking support and promoting a healthier relationship with food. Awareness, understanding and professional guidance can pave the way towards addressing Binge Eating Disorder for improved overall health and well-being.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is an eating disorder and mental health condition characterised by recurrent episodes of consuming large quantities of food within a discrete period, accompanied by a sense of loss of control during the episode.

BED can affect people across various demographics, including men and women of different ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is not limited to a specific gender or age group and can impact people from diverse walks of life.

Binge Eating Disorder is commonly confused with bulimia nervosa. While they do share some similarities, Binge Eating Disorder does not include purging, which is one of the main symptoms of bulimia.

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How is Binge Eating Disorder diagnosed?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (known as the DSM-V), is a widely used classification system for mental health disorders. Binge Eating Disorder is one of the disorders included in the DSM-V.

The diagnostic criteria for Binge Eating Disorder are as follows:


It’s important to be aware that a qualified healthcare professional should make a proper diagnosis based on a thorough assessment of the individual’s symptoms and history. The DSM-V criteria provide a standardised framework for diagnosing mental health disorders but shouldn’t be used for self-diagnosing or diagnosing others if you are not a qualified healthcare professional.

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating:
    • Binge eating is defined as consuming a quantity of food within a specific timeframe (e.g., within any 2-hour period) that significantly exceeds what the majority of individuals would typically eat in a comparable situation.
    • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode, such as a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating.


  • Binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
    • Eating more rapidly than normal.
    • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
    • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
    • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
    • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating.


  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.


  • Binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.


  • The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviours (e.g., purging) and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

What causes Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge Eating Disorder is a multifaceted mental health condition, with its origins likely shaped by a blend of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Some of the key factors associated with the development of BED include:

A significant genetic link has been identified to binge eating, marking a notable discovery in both model organisms and humans. Additionally, they found a network of genes related to myelination, the process of forming a protective sheath around nerve fibres for faster nerve impulse transmission, which is also associated with binge eating.
Biological factors
Imbalances in brain chemicals, such as serotonin, may contribute to the development of BED. Serotonin plays a role in regulating mood and appetite, and disruptions in its function could influence eating behaviours.
Psychological factors
Psychological factors often play a significant role in the development and maintenance of BED. Conditions such as depression and anxiety can contribute to BED.
People who engage in restrictive dieting or have a history of weight cycling may be more susceptible to developing BED. Restrictive eating patterns can trigger episodes of binge eating as the body responds to periods of deprivation.
Emotional and stress factors
Stressful life events, emotional trauma, or coping with difficult emotions may contribute to the development of BED. Binge eating can serve as a way to cope with emotional distress.
Body image issues
Poor body image and dissatisfaction with one’s appearance can contribute to disordered eating patterns. Societal pressures and unrealistic beauty standards may also play a role.
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Binge Eating Disorder and comorbidities

BED can have various comorbidities, which are other coexisting conditions that may impact the individual’s overall health and well-being.

Research suggests that 79% of people with Binge Eating Disorder deal with at least one psychiatric disorder, while 49% have a lifetime history of two or more comorbid conditions. These conditions include;

Additional findings indicate that people with BED and one or more diagnoses often deal with;

  • Anxiety disorders (65%)
  • Mood disorders (46%)
  • Impulse-control disorders (43%)
  • Substance use disorders (23%)

The coexistence of these disorders clearly shows the complex nature of Binge Eating Disorder and its impact on a person’s mental health.

Debunking Binge Eating Disorder myths

Myth 1: “Binge Eating Disorder is just a lack of willpower.”
BED is not simply a matter of willpower or a lack of self-control. It is a complex mental health disorder with biological, psychological and environmental factors contributing to its development. People with BED often struggle with emotional regulation and may use food as a way to cope with stress or negative emotions.
Myth 2: “Only overweight or obese people can have Binge Eating Disorder.”
BED can affect people of any weight or body size. While it is true that some people with BED may be overweight, others may have a normal or lower body weight. The focus should be on the behavioural and psychological aspects of the disorder rather than making assumptions based on appearance.
Myth 3: “Binge Eating Disorder is just a phase and will go away on its own.”
BED is a chronic condition that usually requires professional treatment. Without intervention, it is unlikely to resolve on its own. Treatment options, such as psychotherapy and sometimes medication, can be effective in helping people manage and overcome BED.
Myth 4: “Binge Eating Disorder is the same as overeating.”
While both involve consuming larger amounts of food, BED is characterised by a lack of control during the binge episodes and feelings of distress or guilt afterwards. Overeating may occur on occasion for various reasons, but BED involves a pattern of recurrent binge episodes and is a diagnosable mental health disorder.
Myth 5: “Only women experience Binge Eating Disorder.”
While BED is more commonly diagnosed in women, it can affect people of any gender. Men also experience BED, but it may be underdiagnosed due to societal stereotypes and expectations regarding eating disorders.
Myth 6: “Binge Eating Disorder is not as serious as other eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.”
BED is a serious mental health disorder with significant physical and psychological consequences. It can lead to health issues such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. The emotional impact, including feelings of shame and guilt, can also be severe.
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Is Binge Eating Disorder dangerous?

Binge Eating Disorder can have serious consequences on both mental and physical health. Here are some potential issues associated with BED:

Physical health problems

Physical health problems due to Binge Eating Disorder can include:

  • Obesity: Binge eating often involves consuming large quantities of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, leading to weight gain and potential obesity.
  • Cardiovascular Issues: Obesity resulting from binge eating can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems.
  • Digestive Issues: Overeating can lead to digestive problems such as bloating, stomach pain and discomfort.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and binge eating may contribute to the development or exacerbation of this condition.

Mental health issues

Some of the mental health issues that are associated with Binge Eating Disorder are:

  • Depression: Binge eating and the associated feelings of guilt, shame and loss of control can contribute to or worsen depression.
  • Anxiety: The cycle of binge eating, guilt and anxiety about food and body image can lead to heightened levels of anxiety.
  • Low Self-Esteem: people with BED may experience a negative impact on self-esteem due to their struggle with overeating and potential weight gain.
  • Isolation and Shame: Binge eating can lead to social withdrawal and feelings of shame, as people may try to hide their eating habits.

These potentially dangerous factors emphasise the importance of seeking professional help for this eating disorder.

How is Binge Eating Disorder treated?

When it comes to treating BED, there isn’t always a one-size-fits-all approach. As we know, Binge Eating Disorder is caused by numerous different factors, and this is taken into consideration when a patient receives treatment. This requires a multidisciplinary approach in order to be better suited to cope with individual factors and comorbidities.

In the treatment process, participants engage in both individual and group therapy sessions, encompassing:

The goal is to explore the underlying reasons for binge eating, identify triggers and cultivate healthier coping mechanisms for people to carry forward. Additionally, support is provided to help build relationships with family members and enhance communication skills in more productive ways.

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How can I help a loved one who has Binge Eating Disorder?

Supporting a loved one with Binge Eating Disorder can be challenging, but it’s crucial to provide encouragement and support. Here are some suggestions:

  • Educate yourself: Learn about Binge Eating Disorder, its symptoms and its causes. Understanding the condition will help you provide more informed support.
  • Express concern with empathy: Choose a time when you can talk privately and express your concerns non-judgemental and caring. Use “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory (e.g., “I’ve noticed you seem to be struggling with your eating, and I’m concerned about your well-being”).
  • Encourage professional help: Suggest that they seek professional help from a therapist, counsellor, or a healthcare provider who specialises in eating disorders.
  • Avoid negative comments: Refrain from making negative comments about their appearance, eating habits, or weight. Negative remarks can worsen feelings of shame and guilt, potentially exacerbating the binge eating behaviour. Tough love has to take the backseat in this situation.
  • Encourage healthy eating habits: Support them in adopting a balanced and nutritious diet. Encourage regular, structured meals and snacks to help establish a more consistent eating pattern.
  • Promote physical activity: Encourage them to engage in regular physical activity, focusing on the positive benefits for overall health rather than weight loss.
  • Be patient: Recovery is a process, and it may take time. Be patient and supportive, recognising that setbacks can happen.
  • Help identify triggers: Work together to identify triggers that contribute to binge eating episodes. Understanding these triggers can be crucial for managing and preventing future episodes.

Keep in mind that although your support is meaningful, seeking professional assistance is crucial for addressing Binge Eating Disorder. Encourage your loved one to connect with a healthcare professional capable of offering tailored guidance and support. Living with Binge Eating Disorder should not be the only option for either you or your loved one.

What are the next steps?

If you suspect Binge Eating Disorder in yourself or someone you care about, take proactive steps by consulting a healthcare or mental health professional. Through a comprehensive assessment, a personalised treatment plan can be developed, incorporating therapy, nutritional guidance and support groups.

Early intervention is essential for effectively managing BED, promoting a healthier relationship with food and addressing the emotional aspects underlying binge eating behaviours.

Don’t hesitate to seek professional help—it’s a crucial step towards improved well-being.

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Is binge eating a disorder?
Yes, binge eating is a recognised mental health and eating disorder characterised by recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food in a short period with a sense of loss of control.
How to know if you have binge eating disorder?
If you frequently consume large amounts of food in a short period, feel a loss of control during eating episodes, and experience emotional distress afterwards, you may have Binge Eating Disorder (BED). Seeking professional help is important for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment, which may involve therapy or counselling.
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