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What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food. A diagnosis of binge eating disorder is based on:

  • Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period) an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
  • A sense of lack of control while over-eating, for example, feeling that one cannot stop eating or control how what or how much one is eating.
  • The binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:
    • Eating much more rapidly than normal.
    • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
    • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling hungry.
    • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
    • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.
  • The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

The cause of binge eating disorder is unknown. Impulsive and extroverted personality styles are linked to the disorder, as are individuals who place themselves on a very low-calorie diet. Binge eating may also occur during periods of stress to reduce anxiety or to alleviate depressive moods.


Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder. It occurs in approximately 25 percent of patients who seek medical care for obesity and in 50 to 75 percent of those with severe obesity. It is twice as common in females (4 percent) than in males (2 percent).

What are the treatments for Binge Eating disorders?

The most effective treatment for binge eating disorder is usually a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective type of psychotherapy for treating binge eating disorders. Exercise has also shown a reduction in binge eating when combined with CBT. Two other types of effective treatment include interpersonal psychotherapy (therapy focused on interpersonal problems) and participation in self-help groups such as Overeaters Anonymous.

Mental Health Library Sources:

Information included in all topics of the Mental Health Library comes from the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-5 and Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Complete diagnostic and treatment information may be found within these publications.


Information within the Mental Health Library is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis purposes. Rather, it is provided as a public educational service to make people aware of mental health conditions. Please consult a qualified mental health professional for a diagnosis of any suspected mental health illness.

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