Binge Eating

Binge eating refers to eating a large amount of food in a relatively short amount of time. During a binge eating episode, you may feel unable to control what or how much you eat.  If someone has binge eating episodes on a regular basis, they may have an eating disorder like binge eating disorder (BED) or bulimia nervosa (BN). 

This article will discuss the signs, symptoms, and causes of binge eating and how to get help. It also covers the possible complications you can face if you don’t seek treatment.

Binge eater feeling remorseful amid huge plates of food

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Symptoms of Binge Eating

Binge eating involves eating an abnormally large amount of food in a short period of time. Some of the signs and symptoms of binge eating include:

  • Eating when you’re not hungry
  • Continuing to eat after you are already full
  • Eating alone
  • Hiding your eating habits
  • Eating very quickly
  • Intense food cravings

Many people feel out of control when they are binge eating. Some may even experience euphoria or feel “high” while eating. Later, they often feel embarrassed, guilty, numb, disappointed, or ashamed.

Causes of Binge Eating

Regular binge eating episodes are typically a sign of an eating disorder—a mental health condition that involves distorted thinking patterns and behaviors around food, body shape, weight, and nutrition. 

Binge eating is associated with the following conditions:

  • Binge eating disorder (BED): People with binge eating disorder have frequent binge eating episodes—typically at least once a week for three months or more. They often feel ashamed of their binge eating episodes and go out of their way to hide what, how often, and how much they eat. 
  • Bulimia nervosa (BN): Bulimia nervosa, often called bulimia, is an eating disorder that involves both binge eating and compensatory—or “purging”—behaviors. Purging behaviors may include fasting, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and/or deliberate vomiting.
  • Other mental health conditions: Many people with binge eating disorder or bulimia also have other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and/or mood disorders. For example, around 25% of people with bipolar disorder also experience binge eating episodes. 
  • Stress: Research indicates that there is a link between stress and binge eating. During times of extreme stress, people may be more likely to reach for familiar “comfort” foods and to eat at night, especially if they have an underlying mental health condition. 

In addition to stress, there are a number of risk factors that make it more likely that someone will develop a binge eating disorder, including:

  • Genetics
  • Personality
  • Environment
  • A history of trauma
  • Cultural expectations
  • Beauty standards
  • Social pressure

How Common Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is extremely common. In fact, it is the most common eating disorder in the U.S., affecting around 1.25% of women and about 0.42% of men.

How to Treat Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder is typically treated with individual or group psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you address your negative patterns of thinking and behavior, improve your self-esteem, and develop better coping skills. Behavioral therapy and nutrition counseling may help you learn more about healthy eating and improve your relationship with food. 

Medication is typically not the first-line treatment for binge eating disorder, but antidepressants can work to treat comorbid mental health conditions such as depression. Early studies suggest that anti-epileptic drugs may help to reduce binge eating behaviors and impulsivity.

Similarly, people with bulimia nervosa often benefit from individual and/or group psychotherapy. The first choice of treatment for most adults with BN is CBT, while adolescents often undergo family-based therapy. In some cases, inpatient treatment in a residential setting for people with eating disorders may help you recover both physically and emotionally. Some healthcare providers prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications for patients with BN as well.

Complications and Risk Factors Associated With Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder is associated with a number of potential health complications, partly because many people with BED are obese. People also tend to eat high-sugar, high-calorie, and high-fat foods during binge eating episodes. 

Some of the health risks linked to untreated binge eating disorder include:

If you experience binge eating episodes as part of bulimia, you may be at risk of developing the following medical complications if left untreated:

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Binge Eating?

Typically, a healthcare provider can diagnose you with a binge eating disorder, bulimia, or another mental health condition using the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). They may ask you about your eating habits, how often you binge eat, your feelings about your body, and your medical history. 

Your healthcare provider may also perform a medical examination to look for physical signs of bulimia (such as gum disease or swollen cheeks) or BED (such as weight gain). Blood and/or urine tests may be performed to make sure you aren’t experiencing any medical complications related to binge eating, such as diabetes.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you think you may have a disorder related to binge eating, such as BED or bulimia, it’s important to seek help from your healthcare provider. 

Some of the signs associated with BED include:

  • Feeling unable to control your eating habits
  • Significant changes in the way you eat
  • Eating long past the point of satisfaction
  • Eating alone or in secret
  • Stealing, hoarding, or stockpiling food
  • Planning binges ahead of time
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Developing special “rituals” around food
  • Feeling guilty or depressed after eating
  • Low self-esteem

The warning signs of bulimia include:

  • Skipping meals
  • Emotional and/or impulsive eating
  • Hiding the body with loose, baggy clothing
  • Feeling overly concerned with weight, body shape, and appearance
  • Poor body image
  • Hiding your eating habits from friends and family
  • Frequent visits to the bathroom
  • Using laxatives in order to feel “empty”
  • Extreme dieting
  • Exercising excessively, especially to “make up” for a binge
  • Changing your routine or schedule to binge and/or purge

If you are experiencing any of the above signs or symptoms—or if you notice them in a friend or family member—reach out to a healthcare provider right away.

Seek Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with binge eating, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


Binge eating involves eating a large amount of food within a relatively short period. People who binge eat regularly may have an eating disorder, such as binge eating disorder (BED) or bulimia nervosa (BN). People with bulimia nervosa engage in binge eating and “purging” behaviors, such as vomiting, exercising excessively, or abusing laxatives. Many people who binge eat also experience stress, anxiety, and/or depression. 

Binge eating behaviors and related disorders are typically treated with psychotherapy. This may take place in an individual or group setting. Some people with eating disorders require inpatient treatment. Medication, such as antidepressants, may help to treat comorbid mental health conditions.

A Word From Verywell

If you experience binge eating episodes, you may feel embarrassed or alone. But binge eating is extremely common and treatable. Don’t be afraid to talk to a healthcare provider about how you can get help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does binge eating cause diabetes?

    Binge eating is a risk factor for developing many health conditions related to obesity, such as diabetes. Bulimia nervosa, which involves both binging and purging, has been linked to higher rates of type 1 diabetes. People with binge eating disorders are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

  • How long do binge eating episodes last?

    The length of an average binge eating episode varies widely from person to person. Estimates suggest that most binge eating episodes last about an hour among people with bulimia nervosa. Among people with binge eating disorder, research indicates that episodes last about 42 minutes on average. However, some people binge eat for two hours or more at a time.

  • What causes binge eating?

    Binge eating is associated with eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa. People with stress, anxiety, depression, and/or mood disorders are also more likely to binge eat. Genetics, environmental factors, social and cultural pressures, personality traits, and/or trauma may play a role in the development of binge eating behaviors.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Laura Dorwart
Laura Dorwart is a health journalist with particular interests in mental health, pregnancy-related conditions, and disability rights. She has published work in VICE, SELF, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Week, HuffPost, BuzzFeed Reader, Catapult, Pacific Standard,, Insider,, TalkPoverty, and many other outlets.