The Connection Between Binge Eating Disorder and PCOS

Woman looking in fridge for food
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It’s not uncommon to hear women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) complain of intense, often urgent food cravings on a daily basis, not being satisfied until they have indulged their sweet tooth. Sometimes these cravings can turn into episodes of binge eating or loss of control with food only to feel ashamed and upset with themselves right after. A study published in the Lancet showed one-third of women with PCOS demonstrated binge eating behavior.

For some, binge eating is a way to cope, seek comfort, or to distract themselves of intense feelings of emotional pain that they can’t tolerate. What they don’t know is that their episodes of binge eating may in fact be symptoms of an eating disorder known as Binge Eating Disorder or BED.

Tennis Grand Slam Champion Monica Seles, revealed her experience with BED in her book, Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self in which she described being in control and disciplined on the tennis courts, then feeling out of control and bingeing on food once she got home.

Here’s what women with PCOS should know about binge eating disorder.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

BED is more than overeating. A distinct medical condition recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and listed in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, BED is the most common eating disorder (more than anorexia and bulimia combined), affecting an estimated 2.8 million US adults.

According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association, BED is characterized by regularly eating far more food than most people would eat in a similar time period, with binges taking place on at least a weekly basis for three months. Those with BED feel that their eating is out of control during a binge and find binges very upsetting, among other symptoms.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

  • Regularly eating far more food than most adults would in a similar time period and in similar circumstances, and feeling that one's eating is out of control during a binge
  • Binge eating episodes that include three of the following:
    •  Eating extremely fast
    • Eating beyond feeling full
    • Eating a lot when not hungry
    • Eating in secret to hide how much is being eaten
    • Feeling terrible after a binge
    • Feeling very upset by eating binges
  • Binge eating at least twice a week for three months
  • Unlike people with other eating disorders, adults with B.E.D. don't routinely try to "undo" their excessive eating with extreme actions like throwing up or over-exercising

Binge Eating Disorder and PCOS

The development of binge eating behavior among women with PCOS is not surprising. Symptoms many women with PCOS endure such as acne, thinning hair, excessive hair growth, and weight gain can have a direct effect on their body image and self-esteem, and may lead to the development of distorted eating habits or eating disorders, including BED.

Many women with PCOS are frustrated with their diagnosis. They feel immense pressure because they desperately want to lose weight, conceive a child, and improve their symptoms overall. Some believe the only way to do this is by dieting. Cutting out carbohydrates or eating limited amounts of food to lose weight, along with carbohydrate cravings and low blood sugar, may lead women to binge and feel even worse about themselves. Thus a vicious cycle ensues.

Getting Treatment

You can recover from BED. If you feel your eating is out of control, talk to your doctor or health care professional. Treatment for BED includes working with a multi-disciplinary team consisting of a physician, therapist, and registered dietitian nutritionist. Sometimes in-patient hospital treatment is necessary, but often treatment can be done on an outpatient basis.

The Binge Eating Disorder Association points out that recovery is a process and is not as easy as "just eat" or "just don't eat too much". “Eating disorder recovery takes time and the person suffering with the eating disorder needs to learn new coping tools and mechanisms to manage emotions, identify triggers, and deal with stress without using food or unhealthy behaviors.”

The links below will provide you with more information on BED or help you find an Eating Disorder Specialist in your area.

Binge Eating Disorder Association

National Eating Disorders Association

Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness


Binge Eating Disorder Association Website accessed on February 14, 2015.

PCOS: The Dietitian’s Guide, 2nd edition. Luca Publishing. Bryn Mawr, PA.

McCluskey SE, Lacey JH, Pearce JM. Binge-eating and polycystic ovaries. Lancet. 1992;340(8821):723.

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