Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Some people use food like a drug, and turn to the fridge when the problems start to stack.

Lots of colourful donuts

Donuts can make anyone peckish, but constantly bingeing might be a sign of an eating disorder.

What is Binge Eating Disorder (BED)?

Sometimes referred to as ‘compulsive eating’, those with BED have an uncontrollable urge to eat a lot over a short period of time, even when they’re not hungry. It’s similar to bulimia in this way, but without the purging.

What causes it?

Like most eating disorders, BED can be the result of unrelated stressful factors in a person’s life and a way to feel more in control. It can also manifest as a coping mechanism if someone is unhappy or struggling with depression or low self-esteem. Ultimately, there are no concrete reasons why someone develops BED, but treating a person holistically (psychological, physiological, environmental factors) can often uncover possible triggers and lead to recovery.

Signs of BED

  • Eating much more rapidly than usual
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Eating alone because of embarrassment at the quantities of food consumed
  • Feeling out of control around food
  • Feeling very self-conscious eating in front of others
  • Feeling ashamed, depressed or guilty after bingeing

Long-lasting effects

Weight gain is the most common risk associated with BED, which may then lead to obesity if not treated early enough. Obesity is linked to multiple physical health risks, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and an increased risk of strokes. For these reasons it’s important to try and seek support as early as possible if you’re struggling with BED.

Although depression could be the initial trigger, it can also be a side-effect of it. BED can induce feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem and body image, which can lead to depression or anxiety.

Treatment for BED

Visiting your GP is always the best first step to make when seeking support. For BED, it is common for your GP to suggest self-help initially. They can provide suggestions for books, videos and other materials, as well as support groups for you to attend.

If you or your GP feel you need further help, you can be referred for talking treatments, such as a counselling, CBT or psychotherapy. Talking to a professional about your thoughts, feelings and behaviours can be very effective in unearthing certain triggers and decoding negative thought patterns in order to change the way you think about food and yourself.

However, if you’re nervous about seeing your GP, that’s ok. You can always talk to Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity for support. Their youth helpline is open every day, 4pm – 10pm: 0345 634 7650.

Reaching out to friends and family is also an important step in recovery. Basically, just speaking out full stop is the hardest but bravest and best step to make when seeking support and treatment. There are people out there who will do their utmost to help you in your recovery.

Photo of donuts by Shutterstock.

Next Steps

  • Beat help people overcome eating disorders through helplines, online support and self-help groups. Call 0808 801 0677 or, if you're under 18, call their Youthline on 0808 801 0711.
  • Men get eating disorders too (MGEDT) run discussion boards for men with eating disorders where you can get peer support.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 05-Jul-2016