Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people experience a loss of control and eat large quantities of food on a regular basis. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background.
People with binge eating disorder eat large quantities of food, over a short period of time (called bingeing). BED is not about choosing to eat extra-large portions, nor are people who suffer from it just “overindulging” – far from being enjoyable, binges are very distressing. Sufferers find it difficult to stop during a binge even if they want to, and some people with binge eating disorder have described feeling disconnected from what they’re doing during a binge, or even struggling to remember what they’ve eaten afterwards.
Binges may be planned like a ritual and can involve the person buying “special” binge foods, or they may be more spontaneous. Binge eating usually takes place in private, though the person may eat regular meals outside their binges. People will often have feelings of guilt and disgust at their lack of control during and after binge eating. Unlike those with bulimia, people with binge eating disorder do not regularly use purging methods after a binge.
Binge eating episodes are associated with eating much more rapidly than normal, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry, eating alone through embarrassment at the amount being eaten, and feelings of disgust, shame or guilt during or after the binge.
Signs of binge eating disorder vary but if someone’s symptoms don’t exactly match all the criteria a doctor checks for to diagnose binge eating disorder – for example, if the binges don’t occur as often as may be expected – they might be diagnosed with OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder). This is as serious as any other eating disorder and it’s important that people suffering with it get treatment as quickly as possible.
Often (though not always) binge eating disorder can cause weight gain, and can also lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. People may also have low self-esteem and lack of confidence, depression and anxiety. As with other eating disorders, it’s likely to be changes in behaviour and feelings that those around them notice first, before any physical symptoms become apparent.
While binge eating disorder can affect anyone, the condition tends to be more common in adults than in younger people, often starting in middle age. It may develop from or into another eating disorder.
Obesity is not an eating disorder, but some people often become overweight because of emotional difficulties, and being overweight can lead to emotional difficulties. Low self-esteem, guilt, shame, and social isolation can all be part of the picture. The relationship between weight, size and health is a complex one.
It’s not always obvious that someone has an eating disorder – remember, they are mental illnesses. If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, even if only some of the signs on this page are present, you should still seek help immediately.
What’s it like to have binge eating disorder?
It took me over a decade to realise I had an eating disorder going on. It`s really hard to talk about the things we are not proud of. More about my recovery journey here