Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms: Is Your Loved One Struggling?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is one of the newest entrants to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the list of all officially recognized mental health problems. But the condition is already considered the most common eating disorder in the United States. [1]

Author | Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC

3 sources cited

Broadly, BED involves the consumption of large quantities of food in relatively short periods of time. Many who struggle with this condition also report the loss of a sense of control over what and how much they eat.

And while it is possible for anyone to experience an occasional episode of overeating without having BED, there are certain qualities and symptoms that indicate the behavior is part of a more serious pattern of disordered eating.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Compared to other eating disorders, the exact definition of binge eating disorder is relatively loose. It constitutes eating an amount of food that is considered “excessive” when compared to what would be considered “normal” for the same person over a certain period of time. This type of consumption is called a binge eating episode.

Generally, doctors, therapists, and researchers use two hours as a window to measure consumption during a binge eating episode. Factors used to dictate a “normal” or “excessive” amount of food include metabolic considerations, physiological considerations, and a person’s general health and medical history, among others. [2]

The condition is similar to bulimia nervosa (BN), except that people who struggle with binge eating disorder do not participate in unhealthy compensatory behaviors following a binge.

Binge Eating Episodes

To be officially considered part of BED, binge eating episodes must occur at least once a week over a period of at least three months. Additionally, these episodes are characterized by other factors, including: [2]

  • The loss of a sense of control over how much or what is eaten
  • Eating at a faster rate than normal
  • Feeling full to the point of being uncomfortable following an episode
  • Eating excessive amounts of food even when not physically feeling hungry

And aside from the physical aspect of binge eating behaviors, the condition involves a number of psychological indicators, including feelings of shame, guilt, depression, or disgust around eating behavior. [3]

These feelings can manifest as a tendency to self-isolate, especially when it comes to situations or events that involve food. Frequently, people with BED eat alone or engage in binge eating behaviors privately in order to avoid the judgment of others.

Short-Term Symptoms of Binge Eating

Eating more food than the body is prepared to metabolically handle in a short period of time can have a number of immediate physical consequences, including: [2]

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Sweating and shakiness
  • Feelings of fatigue and drowsiness

Indeed, one of the primary indicators of binge eating disorder is continuing to eat large quantities of food despite experiencing these types of feelings and symptoms. And consistently participating in binge eating behaviors can have other, more serious impacts on physical and emotional health.

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Long-Term Symptoms of Binge Eating

If binge eating behavior continues for long enough, it can start contributing to increasingly serious consequences.

Some long-term symptoms of binge eating disorder include: [2]

  • Elevated blood glucose levels
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes

Psychologically, continuing to participate in unhelpful eating patterns can perpetuate feelings of low self-esteem and negative body image, which themselves can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression. Subsequently, these feelings tend to perpetuate disordered eating behaviors.

This complex combination can make overcoming binge eating disorder seem difficult or even impossible. But the truth is that help is available, with several treatments shown to help people adopt more positive and healthy thoughts, behaviors, and coping mechanisms.

How to Help Your Loved One

If you or a loved one are struggling with binge eating disorder, or if you recognize any of the risk factors or symptoms of binge eating disorder, it’s important to seek out help.

A trained mental health professional can help someone gain more control over their food intake and reduce not only the frequency of binge eating episodes, but the intensity of the negative feelings that often drive them.

Still, it can be difficult to speak to someone about something so personal and sensitive. The way the topic is broached can make a big difference in the person’s reaction and willingness to pursue help.

If you’re unsure where to start, there are a number of eating disorder and mental health hotlines that can offer useful resources and information. A therapist, physician, or other trusted medical professional can also help provide advice or determine the next best steps.

But regardless of where you find help, the most important thing to remember is that recovery is always possible. Seeking out sources for further treatment is the first step on a journey toward a healthier and happier future.

Within Health offers personalized remote eating disorder treatment backed by years of experience.

Within’s IOP and PHP programs offer meal kit deliveries, a numberless scale, a convenient app to attend therapy sessions and view your schedule, and so much more.

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  1. Binge Eating Disorder. Office on Women’s Health. Accessed January 2023.
  2. Aqbal, A., Rehman, A. (2022, October 31). Binge Eating Disorder. StatPearls. Accessed January 2023.
  3. O’Loghlen R, Grant S, Galligan R. (2021). Shame and Binge Eating Pathology: A Systematic Review. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy; 29(1):147-163.

Last Update | 04 - 25 - 2023

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