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Binge-eating disorder


Disease: Binge-eating disorder Binge-eating disorder
Category: Digestive diseases
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Disease Definition:

Also called compulsive overeating, binge-eating disorder is a serious eating disorder in which a person frequently consumes large amounts of food.

Overeating can sometimes become a regular occurrence, shrouded in shame and secrecy. When someone has binge-eating disorder, they might vow to stop and feel deeply embarrassed about gorging. However, they will feel such a compulsion that they will not be able to resist the urges and continue binge eating.

Binge eating is still not considered a distinct condition, even though it is the most common of all eating disorders.

Treatment for binge-eating will help a person overcome shame and win back control.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


No precise definition of binge eating is available. Although some experts say that binges can last an entire day, but usually, it is considered to last about two hours.

During a binge episode, a person will probably eat larger amounts of food than most people would eat under similar situations. For example someone may eat 10,000 to 20,000 calories worth of food, while another person following a normal diet might eat 1,500 to 3,000 calories in a day.

When a person has binge-eating disorder, they may not have any obvious physical signs or symptoms, they may be overweight or obese, or they could be of a normal weight. However, most obese people don’t have binge-eating disorder.

Some of the behavioral signs and symptoms that a person may experience due to binge-eating disorder include:

  • Depression
  • Eating large amounts of food
  • Frequently eating alone
  • Anxiety
  • Eating even when they're full
  • Frequent dieting without weight loss
  • Feeling depressed, upset or disgusted about their eating
  • Eating rapidly during binge episodes
  • Hiding empty food containers
  • Hoarding food
  • Feeling that their eating behavior is out of control

A person might try to diet or eat normal after a binge, however, this can create a vicious cycle, because limiting the amount of food may lead to more binge eating.


The specific cause of binge-eating disorder is still not known, but just like many other mental illnesses, it is believed that many factors play a role in its development, such as:

Psychological factors:
Some psychological and emotional characteristics might contribute to this condition. For example, a person may have trouble controlling impulsive behaviors, expressing anger, managing moods, or they might have low self-worth.

Sociocultural factors:
People who have binge-eating disorder are aware of their body’s shape and appearance and rebuke themselves after eating binges, despite the fact that most of them are overweight. In some cases, people with binge-eating disorder have a history of sexual abuse.

Biological factors:
Biological vulnerability is one of the factors that play a role in developing binge-eating disorder. This means that both genes and brain chemicals might be involved. Apart from this, gastrointestinal changes and appetite regulation of the central nervous system is being studied for clues to help determine the cause of this disorder.



A person may develop psychological and physical problems that are related to binge eating, making them even more miserable and reduce their quality of life. Most probably, the person won't enjoy eating to excess, and find it upsetting and distressing.

Being overweight can give rise to some of these complications as a result of frequent binging. Some other complications may occur because of unhealthy eating habits, such as binging followed by harsh dieting. Because the food consumed during a binge is usually high in fat and low in protein and other nutrients, it would lead to malnourishment despite the fact that the person is overweight.

Some of the complications that binge-eating may cause are:


  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Anxiety
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Muscle pain
  • Panic attacks
  • Stroke
  • Sleep apnea
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Substance or alcohol abuse


Reducing eating binges and improving emotional well-being to lose weight are some of the goals when treating a binge-eating disorder.

Treatment should address some psychological issues, such as poor self-image, self-disgust, shame and other negative emotions because these problems, as well as others are usually associated with binge-eating.

Binge-eating disorder has four main types of treatment.

Reducing bingeing episodes and exchanging unhealthy habits for healthy ones are some of the things that psychotherapy teaches the patient. The sessions could be either individual, or group sessions. Some studies have shown that a few types of psychotherapy can be helpful, such as:

Interpersonal therapy:
This type of therapy will help the person reduce binge eating associated with unhealthy communication skills and poor relationships, because it focuses on their current relationships with other people. In therapy, the patient will learn how to evaluate the way they interact with others and develop strategies for dealing with relationship and communication problems. The major goal of this kind of therapy is improving interpersonal skills, in other words, how the person relates to others, including family, friends and colleagues.

Cognitive behavioral therapy:
Even though cognitive behavioral therapy hasn’t been shown helpful in reducing weight, meaning that the person will need additional treatment if they're overweight, however, some studies have indicated that this type of therapy could help a person cope better with issues that trigger their binge-eating disorder, including a depressed mood and negative feelings about their body. In addition, this type of therapy could give the person a better sense of control over their behavior and eating patterns.

Dialectical behavior therapy:
This type of therapy can help reduce the desire to binge eat by teaching a person behavioral skills that help them tolerate stress, regulate their emotions and improve their relationships with others.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved any specific medications for treating binge-eating disorders. Although some studies show that therapy combined with medications could be more effective than either of those treatments alone, however, before drawing firm conclusions, more studies are needed.
Several types of medications have shown to be helpful, such as:

Some antidepressants can be helpful for binge eating. Although it’s not clear how these medications reduce binge eating, however, it could be related to how they affect certain brain chemicals associated with mood. Some of these medications include tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). However, a person should be aware of the fact that all antidepressants have potentially harmful side effects. When taking antidepressants, a person should be carefully monitored, particularly when they first start treatment or have any changes in dosage, because these medications can increase thoughts of suicide. All antidepressants have FDA-mandated black box that warn about their possible connection to increased thoughts of suicide.

The anticonvulsant topiramate:
Some studies have shown that topiramate is helpful in reducing binge-eating episodes, even though this medication is normally used in controlling seizures. Double vision, dizziness, blurred vision, drowsiness, trouble thinking and clumsiness or unsteadiness are some of its serious side effects.

The anti-obesity medication sibutramine:
This is the most helpful drug if someone has binge-eating disorder and is obese; it has been approved by the FDA for long-term obesity treatment. Also included in serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), this drug has been found to suppress hunger and make someone feel full, leading to weight loss but it can cause dangerous changes in their blood pressure along with other side effects.

Weight-loss programs focus on losing excess body weight more than psychotherapy does. In order to ensure that a person's nutritional requirements are met, they are usually conducted under medical supervision. Because these programs include initial period of strict calorie restriction for fast weight loss, they are known as very low calorie diet programs.
Even though issues that tend to trigger binges are addressed in weight-loss programs, but to a lesser extent than psychotherapy does.
However, these medically supervised weight-loss programs might not be appropriate for everyone with binge-eating disorder, and usually, until binge-eating disorder is treated, these programs aren’t recommended, because very low calorie diets can make the condition worse by triggering more binge-eating episodes.

Although self-help strategies may not be effective on their own and a person may still need professional treatment with psychotherapy or medications, however, some people suffering from this disorder find self help books, videos and support groups quite effective. There are some eating disorder programs that offer self-help manuals which a person can use either on their own or with guidance from mental health experts.


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