- Binge-eating disorder (BED) is a mental health disorder.
- It's when you repeatedly eat very large quantities of food in a short time.
- Binge-eating disorder can impact you mentally and physically.
- There are treatments to help you manage and overcome binge-eating disorder.
What is binge-eating disorder?
Binge eating is different from overeating. Overeating is something that most people do sometimes, such as in social settings.
People with binge-eating disorder repeatedly act on an urge to eat large quantities of food in a short period of time, often in private. The foods most often eaten are highly processed foods such as breads, biscuits, chips and sweets.
What causes binge-eating disorder?
There are many possible causes of binge-eating disorder. Like other mental health conditions, binge-eating disorder can arise from childhood abuse or trauma. Some people have no obvious reason for having binge-eating disorder.
Some things may place you at higher risk of developing a binge-eating disorder, such as:
- anxiety, depression or low self-esteem
- other mental health or developmental diagnoses such as autism spectrum disorder
- drug or alcohol use
- dieting or food insecurity
- unmet social, spiritual, emotional or physical needs
- a family history of eating disorders
What are the symptoms of binge-eating disorder?
People with binge-eating disorder might feel:
- out of control when they eat
- the need to hoard food
They may eat:
- large amounts of food in a short period of time, often sweet and savoury carbohydrates
- in secret
- when they are not hungry
- until after they feel full
- as a way to cope with emotional distress
They might binge eat once or more each week, over a few months. This might evolve to become more frequent, e.g. daily.
People with binge-eating disorder are distressed by their eating behaviour and may feel:
- guilty after an eating binge
- embarrassed by their actions
This can impact their life. They may withdraw from their usual activities and from family and friends.
People with binge-eating disorder can also experience physical symptoms, such as:
- abdominal (tummy) pain
- bloating and other gut issues
- difficulty concentrating
- sleep disturbance
Binge-eating disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa. People with these disorders are often concerned about body image and consume large amounts of food.
However, people with binge-eating disorder do not use extreme weight loss measures every time they binge, such as:
- forced vomiting
- excessive exercise
As a result, their weight may fluctuate, or they might be overweight or obese.
When should I see a doctor?
If you think you have binge-eating disorder, it is important to see a doctor. They can refer you to a specialist in eating disorders such as a:
Stigma around mental health and body image can make it difficult to seek help. Remember that you are not alone — binge-eating disorder makes up almost half of all eating disorder cases in Australia.
ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.
How is binge-eating disorder diagnosed?
To diagnose binge-eating disorder, your doctor will:
- do a mental health assessment
- ask about your patterns of eating
- ask about your thoughts, feelings and behaviours associated with eating
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
How is binge-eating disorder treated?
The best treatment for binge-eating disorder is psychological therapy and dietary guidance.
Psychological therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy aims to:
- address the underlying cause of your binge-eating disorder
- help you to manage and overcome your binge-eating disorder
Dietary therapy aims to help you build a healthy, regular eating pattern by:
- reducing your binge eating
- challenging your food beliefs
- developing your confidence in eating
You can also talk to your doctor about medication options that may benefit you.
Can binge-eating disorder be prevented?
Eating regular, satisfying meals can help to prevent binge-eating disorder.
Recognising the signs of things that may cause binge-eating disorder can also help prevent it.
Complications of binge-eating disorder
If unmanaged, binge-eating disorder can lead to other problems such as:
- heart problems
- high blood pressure
- tooth decay
- other mental health concerns such as low self-esteem, anxiety and depression
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:
You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: October 2023