Binge Eating

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Introduction

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder involves regularly eating large portions of food all at once until you feel uncomfortably full, and then often upset or guilty.

Binges are often planned in advance and the person may buy "special" binge foods.

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

Symptoms of binge eating disorder

The main symptom of binge eating disorder is eating very large amounts of food in a short time, often in an out-of-control way. But symptoms may also include:

  • eating very fast during a binge
  • eating until you feel uncomfortably full
  • eating when you're not hungry
  • 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

The following warning signs could indicate that someone you care about has an eating disorder:

  • eating a lot of food, very fast
  • trying to hide how much they are eating
  • storing up supplies of food
  • putting on weight - though this doesn't happen to everyone with binge eating disorder

Getting help for binge eating disorder

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

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

If they think you may have binge eating disorder, or another eating disorder, your GP should refer you to an eating disorder specialist or team of specialists.

It can be very hard to admit you have a problem and to ask for help. It may make things easier if you bring a friend or loved one with you to your appointment.

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 their 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.

Treatment for binge eating

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

The main treatments for binge eating are:

  • guided self-help programmes - involves working through a book about binge eating and having sessions with a therapist to support you
  • a type of talking therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - in group sessions or individual (one-on-one) sessions

Binge eating disorder often causes weight gain (though not always), which can lead to other health problems.

You shouldn't try to diet while you are having treatment as it can make your binge eating worse.

Read more about treating binge eating disorder.

Causes of binge eating

We don't know exactly what causes binge eating disorder and other eating disorders. You may be more likely to get an eating disorder if:

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

Treatment

Treatment

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

Guided help

You will probably be offered a guided self-help programme as a first step in treating your 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 to:

  • monitor what you are eating - this can help you notice and try to change patterns in your behaviour
  • make realistic meal plans - planning what and when you intend to eat throughout the day can help you regulate your eating, prevent hunger and reduce binge eating
  • learn about your triggers - this can help you to recognise the signs, intervene and prevent a binge
  • identify the underlying causes of your disorder - this means 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 be helpful to you.

If self-help treatment alone isn't enough or hasn't helped you after 4 weeks, you may also be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or medication.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

If you are offered CBT, it will usually be in group sessions with other people, but it may also be offered as one-to-one individual 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 to:

  • 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 that you don't relapse back into binge eating

Medication

Antidepressants should not be offered as the only treatment for binge eating disorder. But you may be offered an antidepressant, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), 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.

You can find out more about the side effects of antidepressants.

Losing weight

It is common to put on weight as a result of binge eating, which can lead to you becoming overweight or obese.

Being obese increases your risk of a number of health problems, including:

Treatment for binge eating disorder is unlikely to change your weight. But, by helping you to stop binge eating it will help you not put on any more weight.

You shouldn't try to diet while you are having treatment because it can make it much more difficult to stop binge eating. But doing regular exercise during treatment may help you lose weight.

Treatment for binge eating will usually include a plan to help with healthy eating and exercise.

Once your treatment is finished, you may wish to work on losing weight, and it's important that you lose weight healthily. Extreme dieting and cutting out meals can make your binge eating come back.

If you're struggling to lose weight, talk to your GP or a dietitian.

Read more about treating obesity, weight loss and healthy eating.