What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is a mental health difficulty that can impact greatly on a person’s life. There are a number of unique characteristics as well as causes of binge eating disorder, and it can have some serious impacts on both physical and mental health. If you’re concerned that you might be experiencing binge eating disorder, there are a number of things you can do which can help.

This might be a problem if you:

  • Eat heaps of food all the time
  • Are worried about your food intake
  • Feel you have to hide the amount of food you eat

Characteristics of binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is a type of eating disorder. Eating disorders refer to a group of illnesses where someone has a distorted view of body shape and weight and they have extreme disturbances in their eating behaviour. 

Binge eating disorder involves eating very large amounts of food in a short period of time and feeling a sense of loss of control while eating. It often happens at times of stress, anger, boredom or distress and at these times is used as a way of coping with challenging emotions.

Most people overeat every now and then and it is not uncommon to occasionally feel as though you’ve eaten more than you needed to feel full. This is not binge eating disorder. However, if you’re eating large amounts of food and often feel out of control when you are eating, you might be suffering from binge eating disorder. 

Some of the characteristics of binge eating include:
  • Feeling that your eating is out of control
  • Eating what most people would consider to be a large or excess amount of food on a regular basis
  • Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable
  • Eating large amounts of food, even when you are not really hungry
  • Being secretive about what is eaten and when
  • Being embarrassed by the amount of food eaten  
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty about overeating
If you think you do one or a number of these things, you may want to speak to someone like a doctor, nutritionist, psychologist or counsellor.

Causes of binge eating

A number of factors can put you at risk of developing binge eating, and these factors canoften affect one another. These include:

  • Feeling alone or isolated from other people
  • Participation in very competitive sports or dance
  • Stressful life events
  • Feeling bad about yourself (negative self evaluation)
  • Low self esteem
  • A family history of eating disorders
Dieting is also a common risk factor for all eating disorders. Many people with binge-eating disorder have a history of dieting.  Dieting may trigger an urge to binge eat, especially if you have low self-esteem or are feeling depressed.

What to do if this sounds like you

Even if you’re not sure if you have a diagnosable eating disorder, it’s important that you talk to someone about it if you’re worried. Your concerns should be taken seriously, regardless of what you weigh or of how much or how little you eat.

Recovering from binge eating disorder is possible, even after years of illness, and the sooner you get help, the sooner you will start to feel a bit better.

It can be hard to know where to find the right support you need. ReachOut NextStep is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. Try ReachOut NextStep to learn about the support options available for you.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 04 May, 2016
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