What is binge eating disorder? How to recognize the symptoms and seek help

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Binge eating disorder can cause intense feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. Crystal Cox/Insider
  • Binge eating disorder is when someone feels out of control around food, causing feelings of guilt.
  • Binge eating disorder symptoms include eating more than intended, hoarding food, and isolation.
  • Treatment for binge eating disorder includes therapy like CBT or interpersonal therapy.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting up to 3.5% of women and 2% of men at some point during their lifetime. This makes binge eating disorder more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.

Binge eating can lead to obesity and the life-threatening complications associated with obesity such as high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and sleep disorders.

Insider spoke to licensed clinical social worker Molly Carmel about how to tell if you have binge eating disorder and when to seek treatment.

Understanding binge eating disorder

“Binge eating disorder means not trusting yourself or feeling out of control with food, and having feelings of guilt and shame around your eating behaviors and your relationship with food,” says Carmel.

Binge eating disorder is also closely related to a desire to lose weight. In fact, an estimated 30% of people looking for some form of weight loss treatment also showed signs of binge eating disorder, according to an overview by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

If you purge after bingeing, then you may have bulimia

“If you find yourself needing to compensate after an episode of overeating like throwing up, taking laxatives, over-exercising, those are tell-tale signs of bulimia,” says Carmel.

The symptoms of bulimia nervosa – an eating disorder characterized by periods of overconsumption followed by episodes of induced purging – include all the same symptoms as binge eating disorder, but with the addition of induced vomiting, taking laxatives, fasting, or some other activity that compensates for the binge by reducing calories.

Risk factors for binge eating

Many people with a binge-eating disorder develop it in early adulthood. Most women, for example, develop it between ages 18 and 29. Though an estimated 1.6% of teenagers also have it, according to a study published in 2011 in the Archives of General Psychiatry, that examined over 10,000 adolescents.

In addition to age, “having lots of diet trauma and drama, like having been on and off and on and off diets, makes you more susceptible to having binge eating disorder,” says Carmel.

For more risk factors, a review of multiple scientific studies published in Psychiatry Research in 2014, found the following increased a person’s likelihood of binge-eating disorder:

  • Severe childhood obesity
  • A family history of overeating, which suggests there may be a genetic component to binge eating disorder
  • Being bullied and teased about your body shape, weight, or eating habits
  • Abuse of other substances besides food, like drugs and alcohol

Binge eating disorder treatment

It’s important to “get support – this may mean joining a support group or finding a therapist who has a success rate treating binge eating disorder,” says Carmel.

Some good news is that binge eating disorder is more likely to be covered by insurance companies now that it’s recognized as a full eating disorder by the American Psychological Association’s DSM-5.

The psychotherapy treatments cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy are considered the best option for treating and overcoming binge eating disorder.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to help people unlearn unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns by recognizing the thought processes that lead to unhealthy behavior and replacing those thought processes with healthy coping skills.

Interpersonal therapy helps people identify maladaptive personal relationships and behaviors that might be contributing to the pattern of ongoing disordered eating. The goal is to facilitate recovery by addressing these behavior patterns.

Insider’s takeaway

Above all, “know that you’re not alone – over 2.8 million people suffer from binge eating disorder,” says Carmel.

Speak to your healthcare provider if you think you might struggle with binge eating or any other type of disordered eating. The National Eating Disorder Association hotline is reachable at (800) 931-2237.

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