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Binge-eating disorder

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Apr 25, 2023.

Overview

Binge-eating disorder is a serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food and feel unable to stop eating.

Almost everyone overeats on occasion, such as having seconds or thirds of a holiday meal. But for some people, excessive overeating that feels out of control and becomes a regular occurrence crosses the line to binge-eating disorder.

When you have binge-eating disorder, you may be embarrassed about overeating and vow to stop. But you feel such a compulsion that you can't resist the urges and continue binge eating. If you have binge-eating disorder, treatment can help.

Symptoms

Most people with binge-eating disorder are overweight or obese, but you may be at a normal weight. Behavioral and emotional signs and symptoms of binge-eating disorder include:

Unlike a person with bulimia, after a binge, you don't regularly compensate for extra calories eaten by vomiting, using laxatives or exercising excessively. You may try to diet or eat normal meals. But restricting your diet may simply lead to more binge eating.

The severity of binge-eating disorder is determined by how often episodes of bingeing occur during a week.

When to see a doctor

If you have any symptoms of binge-eating disorder, seek medical help as soon as possible. Binge-eating problems can vary in their course from short-lived to recurrent or they may persist for years if left untreated.

Talk to your medical care provider or a mental health professional about your binge-eating symptoms and feelings. If you're reluctant to seek treatment, talk to someone you trust about what you're going through. A friend, loved one, teacher or faith leader can help you take the first steps to successful treatment of binge-eating disorder.

Helping a loved one who has symptoms

A person with binge-eating disorder may become an expert at hiding behavior, making it hard for others to detect the problem. If you have a loved one you think may have symptoms of binge-eating disorder, have an open and honest discussion about your concerns.

Provide encouragement and support. Offer to help your loved one find a qualified medical care provider or mental health professional and make an appointment. You might even offer to go along.

Causes

The causes of binge-eating disorder are unknown. But genetics, biological factors, long-term dieting and psychological issues increase your risk.

Risk factors

Binge-eating disorder is more common in women than in men. Although people of any age can have binge-eating disorder, it often begins in the late teens or early 20s.

Factors that can increase your risk of developing binge-eating disorder include:

Complications

You may develop psychological and physical problems related to binge eating.

Complications that may be caused by binge-eating disorder include:

Psychiatric disorders that are often linked with binge-eating disorder include:

Prevention

Although there's no sure way to prevent binge-eating disorder, if you have symptoms of binge eating, seek professional help. Your medical care provider can advise you on where to get help.

If you think a friend or loved one has a binge-eating problem, steer her or him toward healthier behavior and professional treatment before the situation worsens. If you have a child:

Diagnosis

To diagnose binge-eating disorder, your medical care provider may recommend a psychological evaluation, including discussion of your eating habits.

Your medical care provider also may want you to have other tests to check for health consequences of binge-eating disorder, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, GERD and some sleep-related breathing disorders. These tests may include:

Treatment

The goals for treatment of binge-eating disorder are to reduce eating binges and achieve healthy eating habits. Because binge eating can be so entwined with shame, poor self-image and other negative emotions, treatment may also address these and any other mental health issues, such as depression. By getting help for binge eating, you can learn how to feel more in control of your eating.

Psychotherapy

Whether in individual or group sessions, psychotherapy (also called talk therapy) can help teach you how to exchange unhealthy habits for healthy ones and reduce bingeing episodes. Examples of psychotherapy include:

Medications

Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse), a drug for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is the first FDA-approved medication to treat moderate to severe binge-eating disorder in adults. A stimulant, Vyvanse can be habit-forming and abused. Common side effects include a dry mouth and insomnia, but more-serious side effects can occur.

Several other types of medication may help reduce symptoms. Examples include:

While these medications can be helpful in controlling binge-eating episodes, they may not have much impact on weight reduction.

Behavioral weight-loss programs

Many people with binge-eating disorder have a history of failed attempts to lose weight on their own. However, weight-loss programs typically aren't recommended until the binge-eating disorder is treated, because dieting may trigger more binge-eating episodes, making weight loss less successful.

When appropriate, weight-loss programs are generally done under medical supervision to ensure that your nutritional requirements are met. Weight-loss programs that address binge triggers can be especially helpful when you're also getting cognitive behavioral therapy.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Typically, treating binge-eating disorder on your own isn't effective. But in addition to professional help, you can take these self-care steps to reinforce your treatment plan:

Alternative medicine

Most dietary supplements and herbal products designed to suppress the appetite or aid in weight loss are ineffective and may be misused by people with eating disorders. And natural doesn't always mean safe. Weight-loss supplements or herbs can have serious side effects and dangerously interact with other medications.

If you use dietary supplements or herbs, discuss the potential risks with your medical care provider.

Coping and support

Living with an eating disorder is especially difficult because you have to deal with food on a daily basis. Here are some tips to help you cope:

Get support

If you have binge-eating disorder, you and your family may find support groups helpful for encouragement, hope and advice on coping. Support group members can understand what you're going through because they've been there themselves. Ask your medical care provider if he or she knows of a group in your area.

Preparing for an appointment

Treatment of binge-eating disorder may require a team approach that includes doctors and other medical care providers, mental health professionals and dietitians with experience in eating disorders.

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointments. Ask a family member or friend to go with you, if possible, to help you remember key points and give a fuller picture of the situation.

What you can do

Before your appointment make a list of:

Questions to ask your medical care provider or mental health professional include:

Don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

Your medical care provider or mental health professional is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:

Your medical care provider or mental health professional will ask additional questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your appointment time.

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