What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Man eating from multiple plates of food

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is an eating disorder introduced in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Although it is officially categorized as an eating disorder, many people believe that Binge Eating Disorder could be characterized as food addiction. 

Binge Eating Disorder does not just happen in overweight or obese people; it can also happen in people who are normal weight.

However, people who are looking for help with the disorder are often overweight or obese. As most obese people don't have Binge Eating Disorder, it is important not to get obesity and Binge Eating Disorder confused.

People with Binge Eating Disorder will have the following symptoms.

Episodes of Binge Eating

Binge eating means that the person eats a larger amount of food within a certain time period, such as two hours, than most people would normally eat during that time. During that time, they will feel a lack of control over their eating, that they just can't stop eating, or control how much they eat, or even what they eat. 

The way that binge eating is described in Binge Eating Disorder shows similarity to the way substance use is described in Substance Use Disorders. For example, in Alcohol Use Disorder, people drink more alcohol than they intend to, and don't feel they can control their drinking.

Binge Eating Disorder also involves at least three eating patterns that are out of the ordinary, including eating more quickly than normal, eating until uncomfortably full, eating a lot even when not hungry, eating alone because of embarrassment about how much is being eaten, and feeling awful after binge eating, often guilty, disgusted or sad.

In Binge Eating Disorder, these binges will happen at least once a week for three months, so if it happens only once, or only occasionally, the person probably doesn't have binge eating disorder. 

Although they are very unhappy about their binge eating, when someone has Binge Eating Disorder, they don't try and compensate for overeating, the way that people with bulimia do. So if the person binges and purges afterwards, they probably don't have Binge Eating Disorder.

Triggers for Binge Eating

Several triggers for binge eating have been reported in people with Binge Eating Disorder. These include feeling unhappy, anxious, or having other negative emotions, particularly about body weight, body shape, or about food. Sometimes, people are triggered to binge eat when they are feeling bored. Binge eating during or after problems in personal relationships are also common.  

These emotional triggers for out of control, excessive behavior are another similarity between Binge Eating Disorder and Substance Use Disorders.

People who develop addictions to alcohol and drugs typically find the desire to drink or to use drugs is greatest when they are triggered by negative feelings, such as depression and anxiety, as well as when they are having difficulties in their relationships with others, or when they are bored.

Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

Treatments for Binge Eating Disorder include medications and psychotherapy, such as CBT and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Self help is also effective. Talk to your doctor to find the right treatment for you.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Arlington, VA: Author. 2013.

Fischer, Sophia; Meyer, Andrea H.; Dremmel, Daniela; Schlup, Barbara; Munsch, Simone. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Binge Eating Disorder: Long-term efficacy and predictors of long-term treatment success.Behaviour Research and Therapy, Vol 58, Jul, 2014 pp. 36-42. 

Gallagher, Meagan E. Tasca, Giorgio A. Ritchie, Kerri Balfour, Louise Bissada, Hany  Attachment anxiety moderates the relationship between growth in group cohesion and treatment outcomes in Group Psychodynamic Interpersonal Psychotherapy for women with binge eating disorder. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, Vol 18(1), pp. 38-52. Mar, 2014. 

Grilo, Carlos M. White, Marney A. Masheb, Robin M. Gueorguieva, Ralitza  Predicting Meaningful Outcomes to Medication and Self-Help Treatments for Binge-Eating Disorder in Primary Care: The Significance of Early Rapid Response.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Jan 26, 2015. 

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