What Is Binge Eating?
If you ever ate so much at Thanksgiving that you felt uncomfortable, you know what it feels like to overeat. It's not unusual to overeat from time to time. Most people do.
But binge eating is different from eating too much during the holidays. People with a binge eating problem regularly eat much more food than most people. They often eat quickly, eat when they are stressed or upset (instead of just when they're hungry), and feel like they can't stop eating, even when they're uncomfortably full. They also binge at least once a week for several months.
As a result, they might feel guilty, ashamed, or bad about themselves after a binge. Many people who binge eat are overweight. But those at a healthy weight can also have a binge eating disorder. Binge eating is different from bulimia, another eating disorder. People with bulimia binge eat, but try to make up for overeating by throwing up, using laxatives, or over-exercising to lose weight.
Binge eating is often a mixed-up way of dealing with or avoiding difficult emotions. Usually, people who binge eat aren't aware of what's driving them to overeat. They usually are unhappy about their weight, may have large weight swings, and often feel depressed.
Why Do Some People Binge Eat?
Experts don't know the exact cause of binge eating disorder. It's likely a combination of things, including genetics, family eating habits, emotions, and eating behavior, like skipping meals. Some people use food as a way to soothe themselves or to cope with difficult feelings.
People with binge eating disorder are more likely to have other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and ADHD.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder?
Someone who's binge eating might:
- eat a lot of food quickly
- hide food containers or wrappers in their room
- have big changes in their weight (up or down)
- skip meals, eat at unusual times (like late at night), and eat alone
- have a history of eating in response to emotional stress (like family conflict, peer rejection, or school problems)
How Can I Get Help?
It's hard to know how many people may binge eat. Because people often feel guilty or embarrassed about out-of-control eating, many don't talk about it or get help.
Because of these feelings, many people don't get treatment for binge eating until they're older. But getting help early makes it more likely that a person can get better before it causes health problems related to weight gain.
People with binge disorders are best treated by a team that includes a doctor, dietitian, and therapist. Treatment includes nutrition counseling, medical care, and talk therapy (individual, group, and family therapy). The doctor might prescribe medicine to treat binge eating, anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.
If you binge eat, these tips can help:
- Don't skip meals. You are more likely to overeat if you get too hungry.
- Practice mindful eating. Pay attention to what you eat and notice when you feel full.
- Identify triggers. Make a plan for how you can avoid or manage things that trigger bingeing.
- Be active. Regular exercise can feel good and help you manage your weight.
- Find ways to cope with strong feelings. Express yourself through music, art, dance, or writing. Talk to a friend or trusted adult, or try yoga, meditation, or taking a couple of deep breaths to relax.
You may find that it helps to surround yourself with supportive family members and friends. It's best to avoid people who make negative comments about eating or weight because they can make you feel worse.
Talk to your doctor if you think you may have a binge eating disorder or you are concerned about overeating and your weight.
You also can find support and more information online at: