crsheader Index Spanish version Binge Eating Disorder: Teen Version

What is binge eating?

Binge eating is eating large amounts of food within a short time. Binge eating is a treatable medical illness that involves lack of control over eating. It is not just a matter of failing to use will power or having poor eating habits. Overeating does not always mean that a person has a binge eating disorder.

Binge eating is similar to bulimia, but binge eaters do not usually throw up (purge), fast, or exercise too much. Usually binge eaters are overweight, as they do not get rid of the extra calories by purging or exercising. They have problems losing weight, or keeping it off if weight is lost.

How does it occur?

Binge eating is probably the most common eating disorder. Binge eating often starts in the late teenage years or early adult years. Binge eating may be the way a person deals with stress. Many binge eaters do not admit that they have an illness, so they may not want to get treatment or stay in treatment. Family members or a trusted friend may need to make sure the binge eater gets the help they need.

It affects both males and females, but is a little more common in females. Many things such as stress, depression, loneliness, or anger can trigger binge eating. Food is used as a way of dealing with issues instead of a way to satisfy hunger. People with binge eating disorder usually do not eat foods that are healthy.

What are the symptoms?

During a binge, 10,000 to 20,000 calories can be consumed in a single day. Most people eat no more than 1,500 to 3,000 calories per day. Binges include foods like cookies, candy, chips, ice cream, and many other high calorie foods. Binges are often done in secret. After a binge, many of the feelings that caused the binge, like stress, may be replaced with feelings of guilt over lack of self-control.

People with binge eating disorder often feel out of control while eating. Binge eating episodes usually involves at least 3 of the following:

  • eating much faster than normal
  • eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
  • eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
  • feeling disgusted, depressed, or very guilty after overeating

Binge eating disorder can cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, fatigue, joint pain, diabetes, gallbladder disease, and heart disease. Binge eaters often suffer from depression.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider takes a medical history and does a physical exam. He or she will ask about your eating patterns. A diagnosis of binge-eating disorder is made when a person binges an average of two days per week over a six-month period.

How is it treated?

Treatment involves getting your eating habits back to normal. You may need help in planning and following a pattern of regular, non-binge meals. Your healthcare provider may recommend counseling. Psychotherapy, either individual or group therapy, is very important. You may also need antidepressants, antianxiety, or mood stabilizing medicines. Treatment of a binge eating disorder can take several months, or longer.

How can I take care of myself?

Binge eating can be hard to control. Many people turn to food as a way of dealing with their feelings. To help control binge eating:

  • Eat only at regular meal times.
  • Exercise regularly and in moderation.
  • Do not keep foods around that may trigger binge eating.
  • Avoid fad diets or very restrictive diets.
  • Keep a food diary. For several days, write down when you eat, how you are feeling, how hungry you are, what you eat, and how much you eat. Keeping a food diary can help identify the feelings that cause binge eating.
  • Develop and pursue other interests and hobbies.
  • Get 7 to 9 hours sleep per night.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Contact your healthcare provider for help. Eating disorders can be life-threatening. Binge eating can be a difficult cycle to break.

For more information, call The National Eating Disorders Association at 206-382-3587 or visit their Web site at

Developed by RelayHealth. Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-02
Last reviewed: 2010-08-30 This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. References
Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
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