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Binge Eating Disorder


Topic Overview

What is binge eating disorder?

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 have depression, anxiety, or other emotional problems.

Having an 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.

What causes binge eating disorder?

Experts are 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.

What are the symptoms?

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:

  • Eat way too much in a short period of time (less than 2 hours) on a regular basis.
  • Eat when you are not hungry, to ease stress or to comfort yourself.
  • Eat for emotional reasons, such as being sad, angry, lonely, or bored.
  • Feel like you can't stop eating.
  • Eat faster than normal when you binge.
  • Eat so much that you feel painfully full.
  • Feel unhappy, upset, guilty, or depressed after you binge.
  • Eat alone because you are embarrassed about how much you eat.

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.

How is binge eating disorder diagnosed?

A doctor 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.

How is it treated?

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.

Who gets binge eating disorder?

Binge eating 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 if:

  • You or your parents are overweight.
  • You are a perfectionist. This means that you feel like you have to do everything exactly right all the time.
  • You have a poor body image, which means that you don't like the way your body looks.
  • You live in a culture that values being thin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about binge eating disorder:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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