Binge eating disorder is a serious condition in which a person regularly consumes a large amount of food, often feeling like they cannot stop eating. While nearly everyone binges occasionally, it becomes classified as a disorder when the behavior is frequent, harmful, and interferes with day to day life. With treatment, it is possible to manage binge eating disorders.

Binge Eating Disorder vs. Other Disorders

Some other eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa, involve binge eating to some extent. However, binge eating disorder differs from these similar conditions in a few ways.

The primary focus is the person’s binge-eating behavior. While a person with a binge eating disorder may sometimes induce vomiting or try fasting, these are not regular parts of the disorder. Conditions like bulimia nervosa must include more of a focus on these other behaviors.



The causes of many eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, remain unknown. Researchers believe that genetics could increase a person's likelihood of developing the condition, and binge eating disorder appears to run in families.

Other potential contributing factors include long-term dieting and psychological issues. Some people may develop binge eating disorders in response to their guardians enforcing unhealthy eating habits during their childhood, while others may begin binge eating in response to previous trauma.


Risk Factors

Several factors indicate a higher risk of developing a binge eating disorder. The condition is more common in younger and middle-aged adults, though older people can also have it. Binge eating disorder is also common among people with diabetes, and the condition itself may contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. People with psychological issues like stress or poor self-image are also at risk.


Comorbid Issues

Binge eating disorder can both exist alongside and cause a range of other issues. Most notably, it contributes to weight gain and obesity, which have links to health problems like heart disease and cancer.

Depression, anxiety, and similar mental health conditions are often comorbid with binge eating disorders. Some people experience issues sleeping, develop digestive problems, and have joint and muscle pain.



It is difficult to estimate how common binge eating disorder is because a person must recognize they have the condition and report it or seek treatment. Data from 2001 to 2003 shows a lifetime prevalence of 2.8% for binge eating disorder, while also indicating higher prevalence in women. More recent research indicates that around 1.25% of adult women, 0.42% of adult men, and 1.6% of teens have the condition.



There is no guaranteed way to prevent conditions like binge eating disorder. If a person seems to have a poor self-image or a similar issue and is showing signs of unhealthy eating habits, guiding them to professional help may impede the development of an eating disorder.

Parents and caretakers have perhaps the best opportunities to prevent binge eating disorders. Fostering and reinforcing healthy body image is key, as is discussing nutrition and mental health concerns with a child’s primary care provider.



In most cases, people with binge eating disorder choose between cognitive-behavioral therapy and behavioral weight loss therapy for treatment. Both focus on changing a person’s mindset and behaviors, though the methods vary.

Weight loss therapy often involves tracking eating behaviors and activity levels, as well as forming an exercise plan. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is about managing and overcoming negative thoughts and actions that contribute to conditions like binge eating disorder.



Several medications may help reduce symptoms and other problems resulting from binge eating disorder. A drug for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is the first FDA-approved medication for managing binge eating disorder. Antidepressants may reduce binge-eating behaviors. Anticonvulsants have had some beneficial effects on the disorder, though they can have notable side effects.


When to See a Doctor

A person should visit a medical professional as soon as they recognize signs of binge or any other eating disorder. Many people are reluctant to speak to health professionals about these issues, so it can be beneficial to first confide in a loved one. Having a strong support structure makes managing binge eating disorders easier.


How to Help

People with binge eating disorder will sometimes hide their behavior from others, making it difficult to realize that an issue exists at all.

Those close to someone who shows signs of an eating disorder should start an open and shame-free discussion about their concerns. Encouragement is key. Offer to make appointments with medical or mental health professionals and go with them for support.


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