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Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder involves regularly eating a lot of food over a short period of time until you're uncomfortably full.

Binges are often planned in advance, usually done alone, and may include "special" binge foods. You may feel guilty or ashamed after binge eating.

Men and women of any age can get binge eating disorder, but it usually starts in the late teens or early 20s.

You can get advice and support during the coronavirus outbreak from the eating disorder charity Beat.

A GP or local NHS eating disorder team can also provide help and support.

The main symptom of binge eating disorder is eating a lot of food in a short time and not being able to stop when full. Other symptoms include:

  • eating when not hungry
  • eating very fast during a binge
  • eating alone or secretly
  • feeling depressed, guilty, ashamed or disgusted after binge eating

People who regularly eat in this way may have binge eating disorder.

Warning signs of binge eating disorder in someone else

Someone you care about may have an eating disorder if they:

  • eat a lot of food, very quickly
  • try to hide how much they're eating
  • store up supplies of food
  • put on weight (but this does not happen to everyone with binge eating disorder)

If you think you may have binge eating disorder, see a GP as soon as you can.

They'll ask you about your eating habits and how you're feeling, and check your weight and overall health.

The GP should refer you to an eating disorder specialist or team of specialists if they think you have binge eating disorder or another eating disorder.

It can be hard to admit you need help with an eating disorder, so bringing a friend or loved one with you to your appointment may help.

You can also talk in confidence to an adviser from eating disorders charity Beat by calling its adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.

Getting help for someone else

If you're concerned that a family member or friend may have binge eating disorder, let them know you're worried about them and encourage them to see a GP. You could offer to go along with them.

Read more about talking to your child about eating disorders and supporting someone with an eating disorder.

Most people recover from binge eating disorder with the right support and treatment, but it may take time.

The main treatments are:

Read more about treating binge eating disorder

The exact causes of binge eating disorder are not known, but you are more likely to have an eating disorder if:

  • you or a member of your family has a history of eating disorders, depression, or alcohol or drug misuse
  • you've been criticised for your eating habits, body shape or weight
  • you're too worried about being slim, particularly if you also feel pressure from society or your job, for example, ballet dancers, models or athletes
  • you have anxiety, low self-esteem, an obsessive personality or are a perfectionist
  • you've been sexually abused

Most people get better from binge eating disorder with treatment and support.

You'll probably be offered a guided self-help programme as a first step in treating binge eating disorder. This often involves working through a self-help book combined with sessions with a healthcare professional, such as a therapist.

These self-help books may take you through a programme that helps you:

  • monitor what you're eating, which can help you notice and try to change patterns in your behaviour
  • make realistic meal plans on what to eat and when, which can help you regulate your eating
  • learn about your triggers, which can help you to recognise the signs, intervene and prevent a binge
  • identify the underlying causes of your disorder, so you can work on those issues in a healthier way
  • find other ways of coping with your feelings
  • understand and learn how to manage your weight in a healthy way

Joining a self-help support group, like one of the Beat online support groups for people with binge eating disorder, may also be helpful.

If self-help treatment alone is not enough or has not helped you after 4 weeks, you may also be offered cognitive behavioural therapy or medicine.

If you're offered CBT, it will usually be in group sessions with other people, but it may also be offered as 1-to-1 sessions with a therapist.

You should be offered about 16 weekly sessions over 4 months, each one lasting about 90 minutes for a group session and 60 minutes for an individual session.

CBT involves talking to a therapist, who will help you explore patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that could be contributing to your eating disorder.

They will help you:

  • plan out the meals and snacks you should have during the day, to help you adopt regular eating habits
  • work out what is triggering your binge eating
  • change and manage negative feelings about your body
  • stick to your new eating habits so you do not relapse into binge eating

You should not try to diet while you're having treatment because this can make it more difficult to stop binge eating.

Antidepressants should not be offered as the only treatment for binge eating disorder. But you may be offered an antidepressant in combination with therapy or self-help treatment to help you manage other conditions, such as:

  • anxiety or depression
  • social phobia
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Antidepressants are rarely prescribed for children or young people under 18.

Find out more about the side effects of antidepressants