Binge eating disorder

What is binge eating disorder?

People with binge eating disorder engage in episodes of eating larger than usual quantities of food at one time, even though they may be full, not hungry, or feel very uncomfortable. They may eat more rapidly than usual and go to extreme lengths to find and store food for binges, often experiencing feelings of embarrassment, guilt, and shame.

Often confused with bulimia, the key difference is the person affected will not use compensatory behaviours such as purging after a bingeing episode.

Whilst anyone can suffer with binge eating disorder, some are diagnosed as clinically obese whilst others may be of average weight or weight considered normal for them. It does increase the risk of obesity and associated risks to cardiovascular health such as heart disease, high cholesterol, and stroke. It can also be a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Binge eating disorder is a complex illness that can result in serious health difficulties, including risk of death, but is very treatable with the right help and support.

If you are concerned that you, or someone you care for, may have binge eating disorder it is important that you make an appointment with a GP as soon as possible.

Signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder

Signs of binge eating disorder include:

  • In a specific time period, e.g. 2 hours, eating significantly more than would be usual or expected at least once a week for 3 months
  • Not using compensatory behaviours, such as purging, after bingeing
  • A feeling that it is impossible to control the amount eaten, or stop eating once started
  • Eating more quickly than would be considered usual
  • Eating despite being uncomfortably full or not hungry
  • Eating alone and experiencing feelings of shame or guilt after bingeing
  • Feeling depressed and disgusted with self
  • Hoarding food, or storing (hiding) it in unusual places
  • Going to extreme lengths to obtain food for a bingeing episode, such as retrieving food that has been thrown away

Symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Fluctuating weight, both up and/or down
  • Gastro-intestinal issues including constipation, acid reflux, bloating, stomach cramps
  • Difficulties with concentration and focus
  • Fertility, skin and sleep problems
  • Low self-esteem and anxiety
Treatment for binge eating disorder

Children, young people and adults who have binge eating disorder should be offered guided self-help. This means working through a book about binge eating, and having short sessions with a therapist to check how you are doing. People generally have up to nine sessions of about 20 minutes each. However, the number and duration of sessions will be agreed depending on what works for you.

For those needing additional support, generally after completion of the self-help programme over four weeks, you may be offered 1:1 or group cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for up to 16 x 90 minute sessions over four months. CBT involves talking with a therapist to explore what may be the underlying causes and the triggers that make you binge, as well as helping you to plan your daily food intake and sticking to your new eating habits.

Treatment is not designed to help you lose or gain weight, if you need to reach a healthy weight, this should be a longer-term part of your recovery, and you should be given more advice about this by your practitioner.

Adults may also be prescribed antidepressants to support recovery in conjunction with talking therapy. In particular, antidepressants can help with feelings of anxiety, depression, social phobia or help with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) which those with binge eating disorder can also experience. Antidepressants should never be used alone in the treatment of binge eating disorder and are rarely prescribed to those under 18 years of age.

Usually, treatment is offered on an outpatient basis. However, if you or your loved one is very unwell, or outpatient treatment is not proving helpful, inpatient treatment may be required. This may be in a hospital or in a specialist eating disorder treatment unit depending on the area you live, the severity of your illness and any other factors specific to you.

Find more information on NHS treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

If you are concerned that you, or someone you care for, may have binge eating disorder, we are here to help. Please book a 1:1 support call or take a look at our peer support groups . Our team of staff and volunteers have lived experience of eating disorders. They can listen to your worries and provide practical guidance to help you take positive steps towards getting help and recovery.

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