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International Eating Disorder Referral Organization

Binge Eating Disorder


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Defining characteristics of Binge Eating Disorder:

Binge eating disorder is a relatively recently recognized disorder (it is sometimes referred to as compulsive overeating).  Some researchers believe it is the most common of the eating disorders affecting millions of Americans. Similar to bulimia nervosa, those with binge eating disorder frequently consume large amounts of food while feeling a lack of control over their eating. However, this disorder is different from bulimia nervosa because people with binge eating disorder usually do not purge (i.e. vomiting, laxatives, excessive exercise, etc) their bodies of the excess food they consume during a binge episode. 

Diagnostic Criteria: DSM-IV

A. Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode is characterized by:

1. Eating a larger amount of food than normal during a short period of time (within any two hour period)

2. Lack of control over eating during the binge episode (i.e. the feeling that one cannot stop eating).

B. Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:

1. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full 

2. Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry

3. Eating much more rapidly than normal

4. Eating alone because you are embarrassed by how much you're eating

5. Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating

C. Marked distress regarding binge eating is present

D. Binge eating occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for six months

E. The binge eating is not associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behavior (i.e. purging, excessive exercise, etc.) and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

*From the DSM-IV, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.


Some Warning Signs:

bulletRapid weight gain or obesity
bulletConstant weight fluctuations
bulletFrequently eats an abnormal amount of food in a short period of time (usually less than two hours)
bulletDoes not use methods to purge food
bulletEats rapidly (i.e. frequently chewing without swallowing)
bulletFeeling a lack of control over one's eating (i.e. unable to stop)
bulletEating alone, "secretive eating habits", hiding food, etc.
bulletEating late at night
bulletEating when not hungry
bulletDisgust and shame with self after overeating.
bulletHoarding food (especially high calorie/junk food)
bulletCoping with emotional and psychological states such as stress, unhappiness or disappointment by eating.
bulletEating large amounts of food without being hungry
bulletConsuming food to the point of being uncomfortable or even in pain
bulletAttribute ones successes and failures to weight
bulletAvoiding social situations especially those involving food.
bulletDepressed mood
bulletAnxious mood

Some medical consequences:

bulletHigh blood pressure
bulletHigh cholesterol
bulletKidney disease and/or failure
bulletGallbladder disease
bulletBone deterioration
bulletUpper respiratory problems
bulletSkin disorders
bulletMenstrual irregularities 
bulletOvarian abnormalities
bulletComplications of pregnancy
bulletDepression, anxiety and other mood disorders
bulletSuicidal thoughts
bulletSubstance abuse


Treatment Options:

Studies have found that people with binge eating disorder may find it harder than other people to continue in weight loss treatment. In addition, they may be more likely to regain weight quickly.  These are some of the reasons that people with binge eating disorder may require treatment that focuses on their binge eating before they try to lose weight. Further, even those who are not overweight are frequently distressed by their binge eating and may benefit from treatment.

There are several methods currently used to treat binge eating disorder. 

A. Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Method in which the client is taught techniques to monitor and change their eating habits, as well as to change the way they respond to difficult and stressful situations. 

B. Interpersonal psychotherapy: Method in which the client is taught to examine their relationships with friends and family and to make changes in problem areas. 

C. Medications: Antidepressants may be helpful for some individuals. 

D. Self-help groups: These groups may be a good additional source of support for many.

Research is still trying to attempting to determine which method or combination of methods is the most effective in controlling binge eating disorder. 

Often those who have binge eating disorder suffer with the disorder for years, feel ashamed, depressed may feel very alone. It is important to recognize that you are not alone, there are millions like you and there are successful treatment options available for you.  

To determine the type of treatment that is best suited for your situation treatment options should be discussed with a licensed mental health practitioner who can assess your needs.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: AHRQ Effective Health Care Program - Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Management and Outcomes of Binge-Eating Disorder:


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American Psychiatric Association  (1998), Eating Disorders.


Dept. of Health and Human Services (1987, 1995). Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1994.

National Mental Health Association, Teens and Eating Disorders.

*We cannot diagnose or treat eating disorders by email, but we can send you information and assist you in finding resources. Information provided by the Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center is not a substitute for medical treatment or psychological care.  It is vital that you talk with your physician and a qualified mental health professional regarding eating disorder symptoms and treatment.

Binge Eating

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