What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Most people overeat every now and again and it is not uncommon to occasionally feel as though we have eaten more than we should have. However, regularly consuming large amounts of food when you are not feeling hungry, usually to the point of feeling overly full, and at a much faster rate than usual is known as binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia except that the person does not get rid of the food after eating. For more information about Bulimia Nervosa you may want to check out the fact sheet on the right hand side of the page.

Some of the characteristics of binge eating include:

  • Feeling that eating is out of control
  • Eating what most people would consider to be a large amount of food
  • Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable
  • Eating large amounts of food, even when you are not really hungry
  • Being secretive about what is eaten and when
  • Being embarrassed by the amount of food eaten 
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty about overeating.

If you think you do one or a number of these things, you may want to speak to someone like a doctor, nutritionist psychologist or counsellor. Check out the Finding Help Section for more information about how they can help.






Causes of Binge Eating

Binge eating is caused by a number of factors that often affect one another. These include physiological factors (such as our brain chemistry), social and cultural factors (including the thin body ideal), dieting, and negative mood states.

Dieting is a common cause of binge eating. Dieting involves setting rules about what to eat and when. If those rules are occasionally broken, for example, by eating a food you are not allowed or eating more than you should, some people think that their diet is ruined. As a consequence, they eat all they want and plan to start their diet again the next day.

Negative emotions are also common causes of binge eating. People often overeat as a way to make themselves feel better or to distract themselves from their problems. You can read more about this type of binge eating in the fact sheet called "Comfort Eating".

Effects of Binge Eating

There are a number of physical and emotional effects of binge eating disorder. Some of these may include:

  • Not getting enough vitamins and other nutrients – Often the food that is eaten during a binge is high in fat and sugar and low in important nutrients. This may lead to other health difficulties.
  • Depression may occur as the bingeing increases feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness.

It is not uncommon for people who have binge eating disorder to be overweight or obese, although it is also possible for people to be within their healthy weight range.

Being obese may contribute to the onset of:

  • Diabetes
  • Gall bladder disease
  • Heart disease
  • Various forms of cancer
  • Bone and joint problems

Suggestions for Getting Help

Managing your eating habits may include speaking to a professional. However, you can still do some things yourself in order to get your eating under control. Some suggestions for managing your binge eating may include:

Eating Regularly – It may be helpful to eat small meals regularly so that you are giving your body enough nutrients throughout the day.

Avoid Skipping Meals – If you can, try to avoid missing meals. Missing out on a meal may make you hungry later on in the day which may result in you bingeing.

Eating a Balanced Diet – You may find it helpful to look at Nutrition Australia’s site for more information about establishing a balanced diet. If possible avoid going on diets which suggest that you leave out certain foods or only eat at certain times of the day.

Have a Distraction – Having something else you can do when you feel like bingeing may be helpful. This may be going for a walk, hanging out with friends, reading or listening to music.

Exercise – Doing a little bit of exercise each day may be helpful. You may want to check out the factsheet on the benefits of exercise. If you haven’t exercised before it may be a good idea to talk with your local doctor about what exercise would suit you best.

The reasons for bingeing are complicated and it may be hard to manage your bingeing on your own. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you don’t reach your immediate goal.

It may be helpful for you to talk with a dietitian or psychologist. They should be able to help you work out the best way to manage your bingeing. There are a number of options for doing this, and by talking it through you can find the best one for you.

Check out the Finding Help section of the site for more information about what these people do and how they can help. Your local doctor, hospital, community health centre or youth worker should be able to help you find information.

More Information

You may want to check out the websites or fact sheets on the right hand side for more information about eating disorders.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the Nutrition Australia for editing this fact sheet.

Last Reviewed: 14 November 2008