Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms

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Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating that are emotionally distressing and interfere with the quality of one’s life. Those who experience this disorder may feel out of control as they consume large portions of food, even if it makes them feel sick. It impacts about 3% of U.S. adults, is considered one of the most common eating disorders, and is more common in women than men.

Folks experiencing this disorder tend to receive their diagnosis as young adults, though it isn’t unheard of for children and folks later in life to get diagnosed. 

Those experiencing this disorder are subject to judgments from others. Many believe that those experiencing binge eating disorder are simply making a lifestyle choice.

It is essential to clear up this stigma, as this can help decrease barriers to those suffering from receiving care. The first step in fighting stigma is knowledge.

This article will explore the symptoms, complications, comorbidities, and treatment for binge eating disorder. It will also address some frequently asked questions to dispel any misinformation.

If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Signs & Symptoms

Binge eating disorder is a challenging condition where folks experience episodes of eating extremely large amounts of food, often accompanied by a feeling of being out of control. Binge eating disorder is different than other eating disorders like anorexia nervosa binge/purge subtype and bulimia in that the episodes of binge eating are not followed by purging. 

Spotting the signs of binge eating is the first step to getting help.

Common symptoms include:

  • Consistent and recurring episodes of binge eating, characterized by a lack of control during the eating and the consumption of amounts of food much larger than what is needed for sustenance 
  • Emotional distress experienced during and following a binge eating episode
  • Eating very quickly during an episode
  • Continuing to eat despite feeling uncomfortably full
  • Engaging in binge eating even when you don’t have an appetite
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment, shame, or guilt
  • Self-loathing and disgust after a binge-eating episode

It is also important to note that a binge eating disorder diagnosis requires episodes occurring at least every week for a minimum of three months. 

When a mental health professional is assessing for binge eating disorder, they will rule out anorexia and bulimia as alternative diagnoses. It is also crucial that anxiety disorder and any mood disorder such as bipolar or depression are ruled out.

For example, some folks experiencing anxiety may turn to food for comfort during distress. But if this isn’t a weekly occurrence, this behavior will not meet the criteria for binge eating disorder. Additionally, if binge eating episodes occur during a depressive episode, they may not meet the criteria for binge eating disorder, depending on the frequency of occurrence.  Even if you don't meet the criteria for binge eating disorder, however, help is still available.

Complications & Comorbidities

Not everyone with binge eating disorder will experience obesity; many individuals may even be within the normal weight range. However, it is also very common for those diagnosed with binge eating disorder to also experience obesity. This comorbidity can lead to physical complications. The first set of complications that can arise is physical pain. Muscle pain isn’t uncommon, as well as pain throughout the neck and shoulders. Some may also experience back pain. Osteoarthritis (i.e., a form of arthritis) can develop as a result of binge eating disorder and obesity occurring at the same time.  

Other illnesses that can develop over time include hypertension, diabetes, asthma, coronary artery disease, or heart failure. In addition, period irregularities can develop over time for women experiencing binge eating disorder and obesity. 

It is very rare for binge eating disorder to develop into a diagnosis of anorexia or bulimia. However, substance abuse and symptoms of depression can form as a result of binge eating disorder. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes binge eating disorder?

    The cause of binge eating disorder varies from person to person. Some common causes include a history of physical or sexual abuse, co-occurring mental health ailments, issues with substance abuse, a heavy emphasis on weight and physical appearance in the family system, and conflicts within the home.

  • How do I know if I have binge eating disorder?

    If you noticed some of the symptoms presented in this article feel familiar, it is worth chatting with a trained mental health professional. They can provide a diagnosis.

  • How can I get help?

    After meeting with a trained mental health professional and confirming you are experiencing binge eating disorder, they can begin offering you support. This will include psychotherapy and potential referrals to nutritional counseling, medical care, and support groups. 

  • How can I help a loved one who is experiencing binge eating disorder?

    First and foremost, if a loved one feels safe enough to share that they’re struggling with this disorder, it indicates that they deeply trust you. Honor that trust and begin to educate yourself on the causes of this disorder. Healing from binge eating isn’t a matter of sheer willpower—there are deeper roots that resulted in this disorder developing. You can help them find a therapist or support them in seeking a support group. If you’re noticing that their eating disorder is beginning to disturb you significantly, consider seeking out therapy for yourself. To be of support to others, you must support yourself first.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Brownley KA, Berkman ND, Peat CM, et al. Binge-eating disorder in adults. Ann Intern Med. 2016;165(6):409-420. doi: 10.7326/M15-2455

  2. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Eating disorders.

  3. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Washington, DC; 2013.

  4. NIH. DSM-IV and DSM 5 Diagnostic Criteria for binge-eating disorder.

  5. Iqbal A, Rehman A. Binge Eating Disorder. Treasure Island, FL. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

By Julia Childs Heyl
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.