Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people experience a loss of control and eat large quantities of food on a regular basis. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background.

People with binge eating disorder eat large quantities of food, over a short period of time (called bingeing). BED is not about choosing to eat extra-large portions, nor are people who suffer from it just “overindulging” – far from being enjoyable, binges are very distressing. Sufferers find it difficult to stop during a binge even if they want to, and some people with binge eating disorder have described feeling disconnected from what they’re doing during a binge, or even struggling to remember what they’ve eaten afterwards.

Binges may be planned like a ritual and can involve the person buying "special" binge foods, or they may be more spontaneous. People may go to extreme lengths to access food – for example, eating discarded food or stealing food. Many things may trigger a binge eating episode, but commonly they occur when a person is feeling uncomfortable or negative emotions, such as sadness, anger or loneliness. 

Binge eating usually takes place in private, though the person may eat regular meals outside their binges. People with binge eating disorder may also restrict their diet or put in certain dietary rules around food – this can also result in them binge eating due to hunger and feelings of deprivation. People often have feelings of guilt and disgust at their lack of control during and after binge eating, which can reinforce that cycle of negative emotions, restriction and binge eating again. Unlike those with bulimia, people with binge eating disorder do not regularly use purging methods after a binge.

Binge eating episodes are associated with eating much more rapidly than normal, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry, eating alone through embarrassment at the amount being eaten, and feelings of disgust, shame or guilt during or after the binge.

Signs of binge eating disorder vary but if someone’s symptoms don’t exactly match all the criteria a doctor checks for to diagnose binge eating disorder – for example, if the binges don’t occur as often as may be expected – they might be diagnosed with OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder). This is as serious as any other eating disorder and it’s important that people suffering with it get treatment as quickly as possible.

Often (though not always) binge eating disorder can cause weight gain, and can also lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. People may also have low self-esteem and lack of confidence, depression and anxiety. As with other eating disorders, it’s likely to be changes in behaviour and feelings that those around them notice first, before any physical symptoms become apparent.

While binge eating disorder can affect anyone, the condition tends to be more common in adults than in younger people, often starting in middle age. It may develop from or into another eating disorder.

Obesity is not an eating disorder, but some people often become overweight because of emotional difficulties, and being overweight can lead to emotional difficulties. Low self-esteem, guilt, shame, and social isolation can all be part of the picture. The relationship between weight, size and health is a complex one.

On the next page are some more signs of binge eating disorder, but someone doesn’t have to have all of them to be suffering. It’s not always obvious that someone has an eating disorder – remember, they are mental illnesses. If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, even if only some of the signs on this page are present, you should still seek help immediately. The first step is usually to make an appointment with the GP.

I spent all my time thinking about food. I even woke up at night thinking about it.
Sometimes I just feel that I’ve lost all control that nothing in the world can feel as bad as I do after a binge, then I just start worrying about my weight. It never goes away
It was in my late twenties and early thirties that I started to feel my weight was getting a little out of hand. I was constantly in a state of flux with my weight going up and down with periods of control and high self-esteem. This was punctuated by bouts of blue moods and self-loathing, mainly for allowing my weight to creep up. It wasn’t until my late thirties that I'd had enough of the constant battle I had with my weight, body image, and how I thought of myself. I made a decision one day after a binge that I'd had enough. And so my road to recovery began. It was a long road and it was this journey that made me finally believe that things can change and that my life will not be dictated to me by my eating disorder. There have been plenty of ups and downs, all following patterns of stresses in my life, I might have times when I want to go back to the old me and I might still do it, but I am aware of how and why I am doing it and I can fight with a healthier mental attitude, and no more self-punishment.

Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

Signs of binge eating disorder vary but include behavioural and psychological signs as well as physical.

Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

If you’re worried that you or someone you know is suffering, it’s important to get treatment as early as possible. 

Issue date: September 2017  Review date: September 2020 Version 2.0 Sources used to create this information are available by contacting Beat. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.