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Binge eating disorder (BED)

by Psychologytherapy
Binge eating disorder

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder where the person eats large amounts of food regularly. During each binge, the quantity of food eaten is excessive and more than most of the people would eat in the same amount of time. Binge episodes are followed by an intense feeling of guilt that sometimes can lead to eating even more.

The person affected by binge eating disorder doesn’t eat like this due to hunger, it is usually due to wrongly managed emotions. Binge eating is the result of not being able to stay with anxiety, sadness, or other unpleasant feelings, it is an unhelpful solution performed in order to find some relief in the short term. This can become a habit where the person enters a circle of unpleasant emotions followed by eating, that is hard to break.

The person that binges does it usually when being alone due to embarrassment. Therefore, it is common that many episodes happened during the night.

The difference between bulimia and binge eating disorder is that the person affected by this second condition don’t compensate or make up for the eaten food. People with bulimia always do something to compensate, whether it is exercising excessively, fasting, using laxatives, or purging.

Binge eating usually comes together with an increase in weight that can lead to obesity if not stopped on time.

It can affect anybody from any background, but as National Eating Disorders Association explains, it often begins in the late teens or early 20s, and approximately 40% of those with binge eating disorder are male.


The causes of binge eating disorder, as in other eating disorders, are unknown, but there are multiple factors, including biological, social, and environmental, that can trigger or influence the condition. Abuse or traumas suffered in childhood, family conflicts, and problems of the kind can impact eating disorders.

There can also be certain psychological causes like low self-esteem, anxiety, problems engaging in social environments, difficulties managing stress, etc., that can prompt the condition.

The social and cultural pressure to be thin and the fat-bias can lead the person to try diets and restrict food, which can develop in binge eating.


The main symptom od binge eating disorder is binge eating. This has the following characteristics:

  • Eating huge amounts of food during a limited period of time. There is not a fixed definition of what is considered huge amounts, but as a reference, it is any amount that exceeds what other people would eat in the same period of time in a normal day.  
  • Eating even when the person is not hungry.
  • The perception of losing control over food and not being able to stop.
  • Eating faster than usual.
  • Eating alone due to feeling embarrassed about the amount of food eaten and the speed or way of eating.
  • Feeling uncomfortably full or even sick after a binge.
  • Feeling guilty, depressed, disgusted, embarrassed and out of control after having binged.

As mentioned before, whereas a symptom of bulimia is performing compensatory behaviours, in binge eating disorders those behaviours don’t exist.

Additionally, binge eating can have some long-term effects:

  • Important changes in weight and obesity.
  • Stomach cramps, constipation, acid reflux, and other gastrointestinal issues.
  • Problems focusing.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Heart disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Difficulty conceiving and infertility.
  • Gall bladder disease


In order to prevent binge eating disorder, it is important to avoid diets that put the body in starvation mode. Any restriction of food or behaviours that try to control the body weight are risky, as they create a state where the body is hungry and ready to overeat once the person hasn’t followed the rules or diet.

People is prone to follow diets due to a culture that promotes thinness as a synonym of success, and opposes it to fatness, as a sign of weakness and lack of willpower. However, those ideas are beliefs created by society, and in order to fight eating disorders, we all have to at least try to question those ideas and try not to fall for them. Working towards a positive image, follow social media accounts that share positive messages about the variety of bodies and weight, normalizing eating, and fighting body dissatisfaction can help to prevent eating disorders.

Many times, binge eating disorder is triggered by emotions and the inability to deal with those in a healthier way. Teaching children how to manage emotions can also prevent binge eating.

Finally, the movement Health at Every Size (HAES) shares the belief that anyone can be healthy and eat nourishing food, no matter the size or the weight.


To consider that someone has binge eating disorder, the episodes should occur at least once every week for at least three months.


Binge eating disorder can be treated with psychotherapy and medication. The type of therapy that has been proven most successful for this condition is Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which challenges unrealistic thoughts, and replaces them for other more productive or accurate.

Psychotherapy should address the different factors that can impact the condition, such as stress, low mood, and emotion management in general, regardless of the person’s situation and problems.

Treatment should include information about nutrition and healthy habits. It is important to eat enough food, so the person is never hungry. Variety is also essential, as well as eliminating any food restriction. Otherwise, the brain can crave some food that is forbidden and can end up eating huge amounts of that food. Eating everything in enough amount is the first step to recovery.  

As the NHS explains it, it helps to plan out the meals and snacks you should have during the day, to help you adopt regular eating habits.

Finally, medication can be used to help with some symptoms. The NHS advises that medication shouldn’t be used as the only treatment for BED. Antidepressants can help if the person suffers from depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

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