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Women's Health

Binge Eating Disorder

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is when someone often eats large amounts of food in a short time. It's also called compulsive overeating. A person with binge eating disorder feels out of control about how much he or she eats. This disorder is not the same as bulimia. People with binge eating disorder don’t get rid of (purge) the excess food by vomiting, laxative abuse, or diuretic abuse.

What causes binge eating disorder?

Experts don’t fully know what causes binge eating disorder. Social pressures may play a role. Other causes may include personal stress and certain personality traits. 

Genetic factors are also believed to play a role. Eating disorders tend to run in families. More women than men have binge eating disorder. This condition is more common among people who are very overweight. It may be triggered by feelings such as anger, sadness, or boredom. Feeling deprived while on a strict diet may also cause some people to binge eat.

What are the symptoms of binge eating disorder?

People with binge eating disorder often:

  • Eat large amounts of food at one time, often junk food, to reduce stress and relieve anxiety

  • Don't stop eating until they are uncomfortably full

  • Feel embarrassed and guilty about how much food they are eating

  • Have a history of weight gains and losses

  • Have more trouble losing weight and keeping it off than people with other serious weight problems

How is binge eating disorder diagnosed?

Talk with your healthcare provider if you think you may have binge eating disorder. Early treatment can often prevent future problems. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about your symptoms and may order certain tests. He or she may refer you to a psychiatrist or a mental health expert to help diagnose and treat binge eating disorder. 

An evaluation by your healthcare provider or mental health expert may include:

  • Talking about your eating behaviors (such as when the eating behaviors happen and how long they last)

  • Talking about your symptoms (physical and psychiatric symptoms)

  • Talking about how your eating behaviors or symptoms affect your work or school performance, relationships, and activities

  • Psychiatric interview

  • Personal and family history of emotional, behavioral, or developmental disorders

  • Complete health history

You may have tests to see if you have an underlying health condition. These tests may include:

  • Blood tests

  • Radiology studies to look for abnormalities, particularly in the brain structures

  • Educational assessments

  • Speech and language assessments

  • Psychological assessments

How is binge eating disorder treated?

Eating disorders can be treated successfully. But the answer isn't as simple as changing eating habits. This is because eating disorders are about much more than food. They are caused by emotional issues that must be addressed. Therapy is a key part of treating and managing eating disorders. Some people may also be prescribed medicines, such as antidepressants, to help overcome an eating disorder. Those with binge eating disorder may sometimes need appetite suppressants to help manage their condition. 

There isn’t one treatment that works for all eating disorders. Treatment will depend on the results of physical and emotional assessments. It will be different for each person.

Binge eating may make it hard to live a normal life. You may miss work or school to binge eat. You also may feel depressed, guilty, or ashamed. As a result, you may try to hide your problem from others. But it’s hard to deal with binge eating on your own. That’s why it can help to talk with your healthcare provider. Working together, you can find ways to control your eating. Don't be discouraged if your first attempt to talk with a provider is not successful. Try other providers until you find a good fit.

What are possible complications of binge eating disorder?

Possible complications from binge eating disorder include:

  • Excess weight or obesity

  • High cholesterol

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Gallbladder disease

  • Heart disease

  • Some types of cancer

There is a higher risk for psychiatric illnesses, such as:

  • Depressive mood disorders

  • Anxiety

  • Substance abuse

Key points about binge eating disorder

  • Binge eating disorder is when someone often eats large amounts of food in a short time.

  • The person feels out of control about how much he or she eats.

  • Binge eating may be triggered by feelings such as anger, sadness, or boredom.

  • It can be hard to live a normal life with this disorder. People may miss work or school to binge eat. They may also feel depressed, guilty, or ashamed.

  • People with this disorder are at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions. They are also at greater risk for psychiatric illnesses.

  • Therapy is a key part of treatment. Medicine such as appetite suppressants or antidepressants may also be prescribed.

  • It may take visits to a number of providers before you find a professional you can talk to about your eating disorder. Don't give up.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2020
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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