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Binge eating is an eating disorder where a person feels compelled to overeat on a regular basis.

People who binge eat consume very large quantities of food over a short period of time and they often eat even when they are not hungry. Binges are often planned and can involve the person buying "special" binge foods.

Episodes of binge eating often alternate with periods where the person severely cuts down on the amount of food they eat, which can make the problem worse. Binge eating usually takes place in private, with the person feeling that they have no control over their eating. They will often have feelings of guilt or disgust after binge eating. These feelings highlight underlying psychological issues, such as:

  • low self-esteem and lack of confidence
  • depression – feelings of extreme sadness that last for a long time
  • anxiety – a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can range from mild to severe

These feelings can be made worse over time while the person is still binge eating. Read more information about the causes of binge eating.

Who is affected by binge eating?

Anyone can be affected by binge eating. Unlike anorexia, where more women than men are affected, binge eating affects men and women equally. The condition tends to be more common in older adults than in younger people.

Binge eating and bulimia

People who binge eat and those with bulimia (another type of eating disorder) often eat until they are uncomfortably full. People with bulimia then purge (flush out) the food they have eaten by making themselves vomit or by taking laxatives (medicine to help empty the bowels).

Unlike those with bulimia, people who binge eat do not purge themselves to control their weight, and are more likely to try to limit weight gain by having periods of eating very little. However, this often leads to more binge eating and sometimes weight gain, which can lead to obesity (see below).

Binge eating and obesity

Binge eating is often associated with obesity, where someone is very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over. Obesity is a serious health problem that can lead to a number of serious chronic (long-term) health conditions, such as:

  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • high cholesterol
  • type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease

Being obese can also shorten your life expectancy. For example, the life expectancy of obese adults who are over the age of 40 can be shortened by six or seven years.


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Fact Zone

After a session of binge eating, individuals may feel guilty and regretful.
Binge eating can lead to obesity and ill-health related to being overweight.
Individuals who binge eat may do so in private, keeping the amount of food they have eaten a secret.
An episode of binge eating is often alternated with a period where the individual massively cuts down on the amount of food they eat to try to limit weight gain.
Binge eating can be sparked by underlying psychological issues such as low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.
Binge eating can be treated with self-help programmes and psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Binge eating can affect anyone and men and women are affected equally.
Binge eating is more common amongst adults than younger people.
An episode of binge eating is often planned, with the individual purchasing particular binge foods.


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