Someone hiding their eating.

Learning About Binge Eating Disorder

Many of us are familiar with how it feels to overeat after a big holiday meal. It is not unusual that many of us report overeating throughout the year. When overeating to this degree occurs more frequently, it may be diagnosed as Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Unhealthy overeating habits usually start in childhood and may develop into binge eating. A regular occurrence of compulsive, excessive overeating may be diagnosed as BED. The need to binge seems out of control when it comes to the amount you eat and the feeling like you cannot stop eating. During these episodes, food is consumed quickly and to a level of discomfort. BED is a severe condition of recurring episodes of eating large quantities of food. BED may lead to poor quality of life, problems functioning at work or in social situations, social isolation, obesity and life-threatening conditions related to obesity.

BED is associated with three or more of the following:

  • Eating faster than usual (within a two-hour period, you consume an amount of food that is more than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances)
  • Eating until you are uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when you are not feeling hungry
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment by the amount you are consuming
  • Feeling emotionally distressed such as shame, depression, or guilt afterward

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

There are behavioral, emotional and physical signs of BED. These include:

  • Eating unusually large amount of food in a specific amount of time
  • Feeling that your eating is out of your control
  • Eating when you are not hungry or feel full
  • Eating rapidly during binge episodes
  • Fluctuating weight, both up and down
  • Being overweight because more calories are consumed than are burned off. Most people with BED are overweight, but they may be a normal weight.
  • Gastrointestinal issues like constipation, stomach cramps and acid reflux
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Frequently eating alone or in secret
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

BED can affect anyone of any age, but the condition often begins in the late teens or early 20s. The true cause of BED is unknown, but research indicates that certain factors can increase your risk. These factors include:

  • Family History. Inherited genes may increase the risk of BED. You are more likely to have BED if parents or siblings have had an eating disorder.
  • Dieting. Many with BED have a history with dieting. Restricting calories can trigger an urge to binge.
  • Psychological or emotional issues. People with BED may have negative feelings about themselves, their skills and their accomplishments. Triggers for binging include stress, poor self-image and the availability of preferred binge foods. Food can be a source of comfort and some may use eating to self-medicate in an attempt to supress certain emotions.
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Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

BED is a treatable eating disorder. However, most people do not get treatment for BED until they are adults and trying to lose weight. Professional help is generally needed for intervention because BED can be caused by brain chemistry and other factors outside of a person’s control. If you have symptoms of binge eating, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible. There are several treatment options available including:


The first line of treatment in adults is psychological therapy to address the issues of why they overeat.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is currently the best-supported among all treatment options. The goal of CBT is to change a person’s behaviour with food, not lose the weight. It focuses on the interaction between thoughts, feelings and behaviour by addressing these factors. CBT aims to prevent relapse in the future. Treatment for CBT includes psychoeducation, self-monitoring of key behaviours and establishing regular patterns of eating. CBT addresses dietary restrictions, thoughts about body shape and weight, and offers skills for dealing with distress.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) addresses impulsive behaviours and is a type of CBT. There is also interpersonal therapy which focuses on interpersonal issues and is a short-term treatment. Another option is mindfulness-based, eating awareness training which blends mindful eating with mindfulness strategies.


All medications carry a risk of side effects. Keep your doctor informed on how any prescribed medication affects you.
Antidepressants (primarily selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may reduce the frequency of binges and eating related obsessions, and also reduces symptoms of depression.

Trials with an ADHD medication, Vyvanse, has been associated with reductions in binge episodes per week, decreased eating-related obsessions, compulsions and weight loss.

Support Systems

Get support from family and friends or a support group. When you surround yourself with an understanding community that wants to help you succeed, you will be in a much better place for treatment. Make sure to avoid people who offer negative comments about eating or weight because that can just intensify BED symptoms.

Treatment for Teens

Treatment for teens can assist them in developing better stress management techniques and lower their risk of long-term health problems. Treatment relies on the techniques above, but they also focus on:

  • Doctors, counsellors and nutrition experts working together to help manage eating, weight, and feelings.
  • Learning how to have a healthy relationship with food. Teens need to learn about healthy eating, nutritional needs, portion sizes, metabolism and exercise.
  • Nutrition specialists can create an eating plan designed for someone’s needs and help them stick with it.

How to Find Treatment

Your family doctor will be able to connect you with local, reputable resources. Some of these services may be covered by your insurance plan, so be sure to connect with your insurance provider to see what is covered.

If eating feels out of control, there are several resources in place to help you. The sooner you address the issue and uncover reasons behind your overeating, the sooner you will be able to create a treatment plan and instate a healthy relationship with food.