Binge-eating disorder is a serious condition. It always involves feeling like you're not able to stop eating. It also often involves eating much larger than usual amounts of food.

Almost everyone overeats on occasion, such as having seconds or thirds of a holiday meal. But regularly feeling that eating is out of control and eating an unusually large amount of food may be symptoms of binge-eating disorder.

People who have binge-eating disorder often feel embarrassed or ashamed about eating binges. People with the disorder often go through periods of trying to restrict or severely cut back on their eating as a result. But this instead may increase urges to eat and lead to a cycle of ongoing binge eating. Treatment for binge-eating disorder can help people feel more in control and balanced with their eating.


If you have binge-eating disorder, you may be overweight or obese, or you may be at a healthy weight. Most people with binge-eating disorder feel upset about their body size or shape no matter what the number on the scale is.

Symptoms of binge-eating disorder vary but can include:

  • Feeling that you don't have control over your eating behavior, for example, you can't stop once you start.
  • Often eating much larger than usual amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as over a two-hour period.
  • Eating even when you're full or not hungry.
  • Eating very fast during eating binges.
  • Eating until you're uncomfortably full.
  • Often eating alone or in secret.
  • Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating.

A person with bulimia nervosa, another eating disorder, may binge and then vomit, use laxatives or exercise excessively to get rid of extra calories. This is not the case with binge-eating disorder. If you have binge-eating disorder, you may try to diet or eat less food at mealtimes to compensate. But restricting your diet may simply lead to more binge eating.

How much eating binges affect your mood and ability to function in daily life gives an idea of how serious the condition is for you. Binge-eating disorder can vary over time. The condition may be short-lived, may go away and come back, or may continue for years if left untreated.

When to see a doctor

If you have any symptoms of binge-eating disorder, get medical help as soon as possible. Talk with your healthcare professional or a mental health professional about your symptoms and feelings.

If you're embarrassed by your eating and are worried about talking to your healthcare professional, start by talking with someone you trust about what you're going through. A friend, family member, teacher or faith leader can encourage and support you in taking the first steps to successful treatment of binge-eating disorder.

Talking with a professional with specialty training in eating disorders or reaching out to an organization specializing in eating disorders might be a good place to find support from someone who understands what you're going through.

Helping a loved one who has symptoms

Someone who has binge-eating disorder may become an expert at hiding behavior. This is usually because of feelings of shame and embarrassment about the symptoms. Hiding symptoms can make it hard for others to notice the problem. If you think a loved one may have symptoms of binge-eating disorder, have an open and honest talk about your concerns, but remember to approach the topic with sensitivity. Eating disorders are mental health conditions, and the behaviors are not the fault or choice of the person with this condition.

Give encouragement and support. Offer to help your loved one find a healthcare professional or mental health professional with experience in treating eating disorders. You may help make an appointment. You might even offer to go along.

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The causes of binge-eating disorder are not known. But certain genes, how your body works, long-term dieting and the presence of other mental health conditions increase your risk.

Risk factors

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

Factors that can raise your risk of having binge-eating disorder include:

  • Family history. You're much more likely to have an eating disorder if your parents or siblings have — or had — an eating disorder. This may point to genes passed down in your family that increase the risk of having an eating disorder.
  • Dieting. Many people with binge-eating disorder have a history of dieting. Dieting or limiting calories throughout the day may trigger an urge to binge eat.
  • Mental health conditions. Many people who have binge-eating disorder feel negatively about themselves and their skills and accomplishments. Triggers for bingeing can include stress, poor body self-image and certain foods. Certain situations also can be triggers, for example, being at a party, having downtime or driving in your car.


Mental health conditions and physical problems can happen from binge eating. Complications from binge-eating disorder may include:

  • Not feeling comfortable or able to enjoy your life.
  • Problems functioning at work, in your personal life or in social situations.
  • Isolating or feeling isolated from others socially.
  • Weight gain.
  • Medical conditions related to weight gain. These may include joint problems, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), poor nutrition and some sleep-related breathing disorders.

Mental health conditions that are often linked with binge-eating disorder include:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Substance use disorders.
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior.


If you have a child with binge-eating behaviors:

  • Model body acceptance, regardless of body shape or size. Make it clear that dieting or restricting food is not healthy unless there's a diagnosed food allergy.
  • Talk with your child's healthcare professional about any concerns. The healthcare professional may be in a good position to identify early symptoms of an eating disorder and help get expert treatment right away. The professional also can recommend helpful resources you can use to support your child.

Feb. 23, 2024
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