Binge-eating disorder (BED)
What is binge-eating disorder?
Binge-eating disorder is a type of eating disorder. A person with binge-eating disorder will frequently eat very large quantities of food in a short period of time. They often feel as though they have lost control of their eating.
Binge-eating disorder is a serious mental health disorder. It makes up almost half of all cases of eating disorder in Australia.
What causes binge-eating disorder?
Some people have no obvious reason for having binge-eating disorder. Some will have a family history of eating disorders. Genes probably play a part. Others have experienced childhood abuse or trauma.
Binge-eating disorder is also linked to:
What are the symptoms of binge-eating disorder?
People with binge-eating disorder might:
- eat large amounts of food in a short period of time
- feel out of control when they eat
- eat rapidly during a binge
- eat when they are not hungry
- eat to the point of discomfort
- eat as a way to cope with emotional distress
- hoard food
People with binge-eating disorder are distressed by their eating behaviour and might feel:
- guilty after an eating binge
- embarrassed by their actions (and secretive about their eating)
They might also withdraw from their usual activities and from family and friends.
People with binge-eating disorder can also experience physical symptoms, such as:
- stomach cramps
- difficulty concentrating
Binge-eating disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa in that people with both disorders are concerned about body image and consume large amounts of food.
However, unlike bulimia nervosa, people with binge-eating disorder do not take extreme steps to lose weight every time they binge (such as forced vomiting, laxatives and excessive exercise). As a result, their weight might fluctuate, or they might be overweight or obese.
When should I see a doctor?
It is important to see a doctor as soon as you suspect that you or someone else has binge-eating disorder. A doctor can refer you to a specialist in eating disorders such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
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How is binge-eating disorder diagnosed?
A doctor will do a mental health assessment and ask about the pattern of eating, and the thoughts, feelings and behaviours associated with it.
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How is binge-eating disorder treated?
The best treatment for binge-eating disorder is long-term psychological therapy. Exercise and managing stress are also important to recovery.
Resources and support
If you, or someone you know, thinks they might have binge-eating disorder, contact the following organisations for support, information and counselling:
- Butterfly Foundation — call 1800 33 4673
- National Eating Disorders Collaboration
- Eating Disorders Victoria (for people in Victoria with eating disorders) — call 1300 550 236
Lists of mental support services can be found on the healthdirect, Department of Health and Mental Health Australia websites.
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Last reviewed: June 2021