Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is defined by regular episodes of binge eating accompanied by feelings of loss of control, and in many cases, guilt, embarrassment and disgust.

Unlike those with bulimia nervosa, a person with binge eating disorder will not use compensatory behaviours, such as self-induced vomiting or over-exercising after binge eating. Many people with binge eating disorder are overweight or obese, and large population studies indicate that similar numbers of males and females experience binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder is characterised by:

  • Frequent episodes of binge eating involving the consumption of a large amount of food in a short period of time. Binge episodes will be accompanied by a loss of control over eating and the inability to stop the binge

  • A range of identifiable eating habits, including eating very quickly, eating without being hungry and continuing to eat to discomfort when already full

  • Feelings of guilt and shame about the amount of food consumed during a binge episode and the way it has been eaten. Binge eating often occurs at times of stress, anger, boredom or distress, and at these times may be a means of coping with challenging emotions

  • Secretive behaviours around food. Because of their feelings around food, people with binge eating disorder are often very secretive about their eating habits and choose to eat alone

What are the warning signs of binge eating disorder?

Someone with binge eating disorder may display a combination of the following symptoms:

Physical signs

  • Feeling tired and not sleeping well

  • Feeling bloated, constipated or developing intolerances to food

Psychological signs

  • Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight

  • Increased sensitivity to comments relating to food, weight, body shape, exercise

  • Extreme body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem and shame about their appearance

  • Feelings of extreme distress, sadness, irritability, anxiety and guilt during and after a binge episode

Behavioural signs

  • Evidence of binge eating (e.g. disappearance or hoarding of food)

  • Secretive behaviour relating to food (e.g. hiding food and food wrappers; evading questions about eating and weight

  • Increased isolation and withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed

  • Erratic behaviour (e.g. shoplifting food or spending large amounts of money on food)

  • Self-harm, substance abuse or suicide attempts

What are the risks associated with binge eating disorder?

The risks associated with binge eating disorder are severe. People with binge eating disorder may experience:

  • Osteoarthritis - a painful form of degenerative arthritis in which a person’s joints degrade in quality and can lead to loss of cartilage

  • Chronic kidney problems or kidney failure

  • High blood pressure and/or high cholesterol leading to increased risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease

Treatment

Evidence-based therapies to consider for the treatment of binge eating disorder include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy for binge eating disorder

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy

  • Dialectical behaviour therapy

  • Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (LDX), a central nervous system stimulant medication

Note: If the person with the eating disorder also presents with symptoms of obesity, this will need to be managed simultaneously using the appropriate treatment.

Find out more about specific treatment approaches.

Getting help

If you suspect that you or someone you know has binge eating disorder, it is important to seek help immediately. Contact your GP for a referral to a practitioner with specialised knowledge in health, nutrition and eating disorders. 

Find help in your local area.

 

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