Eating Disorders
(Including Anorexia and Bulimia)

Symptoms of Binge Eating

By Toby Goldsmith, M.D., Sue Craven, Ph.D. and John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
05-Oct-2005

In the Eating Disorders Series:

"Bet you can't eat just one."

Many will recall this popular television commercial, where the announcer tempts an unsuspecting muncher with a single potato chip. He grabs the bag, examines a single chip and confidently eats it. Within moments his eyes are fixed on the bag of chips that seem to be calling his name. He looks away but the urge is too strong. Overwhelmed by his craving, he lunges for the bag, and devours the entire contents. The announcer smugly retorts. "Told you. You can't eat just one."

For the millions of Americans with binge eating disorder this scenario is all too real. Binge eating disorder is perhaps the most common, yet least studied, of the eating disorders.

There are striking similarities to substance abuse. Both include obsessive thoughts, preoccupation and strong compulsion to consume, followed by feelings of guilt and emotional angst.

There is hope, however. New and exciting research is providing a clearer picture of the causes of binge eating disorder and obesity. Neuroscientists have recently identified a number of brain messengers that are involved in the feelings of hunger, feeding and satiation. These are the targets for the development of new and better treatments for binge eating and other eating disorders.

Specific Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder:

Most people overeat from time to time, and many people feel they frequently eat more than they should. Eating large amounts of food, however, does not mean that a person has binge eating disorder. Doctors are still debating the best ways to determine if someone has binge eating disorder. But most people with serious binge eating problems have:

  • Frequent episodes of eating what others would consider an abnormally large amount of food.

  • Frequent feelings of being unable to control what or how much is being eaten.

  • Several of these behaviors or feelings:

    1. Eating much more rapidly than usual.
    2. Eating until uncomfortably full.
    3. Eating large amounts of food, even when not physically hungry.
    4. Eating alone out of embarrassment at the quantity of food being eaten.
    5. Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after overeating.

Episodes of binge eating also occur in the eating disorder bulimia nervosa. Persons with bulimia, however, regularly purge, fast, or engage in strenuous exercise after an episode of binge eating. Purging means vomiting or using diuretics (water pills) or laxatives in greater-than-recommended doses to avoid gaining weight. Fasting is not eating for at least 24 hours. Strenuous exercise, in this case, is defined as exercising for more than an hour solely to avoid gaining weight after binge eating. Purging, fasting, and strenuous exercise are dangerous ways to attempt weight control.

The Body Mass Calculator is one simple way to calculate your healthy weight.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 May 2013
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