What Is Binge Eating Disorder and How Do I Get Help for It?

By Lauren Krouse

Binge eating disorder is often misunderstood or goes undiagnosed because it was only recognized as a stand-alone eating disorder in 2013. It’s the newest eating disorder to be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the handbook health-care professionals use to diagnose mental health disorders. 

Binge eating means you eat significantly more than a traditional serving size in a short period of time, e.g. a few hours. If you have binge eating disorder, you may also eat in secret and experience a lot of shame about it. 

Many of us are just beginning to learn about it, but binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder. As many as 5 percent of us are living with binge eating disorder. It’s a serious medical condition that can become life-threatening, and most people need professional help to recover from it.

Here are some things you should know and information about how to get help if you think you or someone you know may be living with binge eating disorder. 

Watch: The REAL Cause of Binge Eating Disorder

Who Can Get Binge Eating Disorder?

Anyone can develop binge eating disorder, no matter your body size, weight, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, or background. Symptoms often first show up in your late teens or early 20s, but you can also develop binge eating disorder earlier or later in life. 

A few facts about binge eating disorder: 

  • People with larger bodies account for about 80 percent of people with binge eating disorder, but anyone of any body size can develop the disorder and not all overweight or obese people have binge eating disorder.   
  • Men are more likely to have binge eating disorder than other eating disorders. 
  • African American, Native American, and Hispanic people are also more likely to develop binge eating disorder than any other eating disorder, but they have a harder time getting diagnosed and treated because of barriers to accessing care and medical racism. 

What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?

We don’t yet know exactly what causes binge eating disorder, but researchers have discovered many things that may play a role.

  • Family history and genetics, such as having a parent or sibling who has binge eating disorder.
  • Dieting, since restricting how much you eat can trigger the urge to binge eat later.
  • Brain chemistry. People with binge eating disorder may be more impulsive and respond to food differently based on differences in how their brains operate.
  • Personality traits such as perfectionism and a strong drive to avoid harm.
  • Feeling negative about yourself or your body image.
  • Trauma, abuse, or neglect.
  • Early puberty.
  • Substance abuse and mental health conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and ADD often come along with binge eating disorder. 
  • Weight stigma from bullying, teasing, and discrimination based on your weight.
  • Challenges managing difficult emotions or distress, and using food to cope or escape.
  • Food insecurity. Not having enough healthy food or not knowing when you will again has been linked to a higher risk of binge eating in young adults, and greater problems accessing food may lead to more severe binge-eating episodes. 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder?

The main thing to look out for is a pattern of extreme overeating. One key difference between binge eating and occasionally overindulging is the strong sensation that you cannot control yourself or stop, and the cycle repeats itself weekly or even more frequently. You may also: 

  • Eat to soothe yourself and push down heavy emotions. 
  • Believe you’ll feel better about yourself if you lose weight.
  • Eat much faster than usual.
  • Eat until you’re uncomfortably full.
  • Eat large amounts of food despite not feeling hungry. 
  • Eat alone out of embarrassment.
  • Feel disgusted, depressed, or guilty afterward.
  • Try to keep it a secret.
  • Create rituals or arrange your schedule around binge-eating sessions.
  • Have gastrointestinal problems such as stomach cramps, constipation, or acid reflux.

People with binge eating disorder often do a lot to keep their struggles to themselves, but there are some signs you can look out for.

  • Complaints about weight gain.
  • Excessive focus on body weight and shape.
  • Avoidance or discomfort around eating together or in public.
  • Stealing, hoarding, and hiding food.
  • Frequent dieting.
  • Pulling away from loved ones and activities.
  • Sudden disappearance of large amounts of food.
  • Collections of empty wrappers and food containers, often hidden away.

Binge eating disorder can also cause serious physical health consequences. Over time, your body may become resistant to insulin, a hormone that helps your body get energy from carbs, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Binge eating can even cause your stomach to rupture, a very rare, but life-threatening, emergency. 

Some studies also suggest young people with binge eating disorder have a higher risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts than their peers who don’t have an eating disorder. 

How to Get Help for Binge Eating Disorder

If binge eating is stressing you out and taking over your life, but you cannot stop—or if this is happening to someone you care about—now is the time to reach out for the support you need and deserve. 

Learn how to start the conversation with a loved one or how to ask for help. You can break free from shame, release yourself from an unsustainable situation, and recover from binge eating disorder. 

To get support and resources for yourself or a loved one who may have binge eating disorder, contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders Helpline, which is run by licensed therapists who specialize in eating disorders. 

  • Call 866-662-1235 or email info@allianceforeatingdisorders.com to get referrals to all levels of care. The helpline is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST Monday through Friday. If help is not immediately available, your call will be returned as soon as possible.

If you or someone you know needs help: 

  • Text HEALING to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day. 
  • Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org
  • If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.