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What is binge eating disorder? (BED)

Binge eating disorder (BED), also known as ‘compulsive eating disorder’, is a fairly common condition, which is now widely recognised as an eating disorder. BED is characterised by compulsive overeating, whereby individuals regularly eat a large amount of food in one sitting, regardless of whether or not they are hungry. However, unlike other eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, BED sufferers do not engage in purging behaviours and therefore, the constant overeating that is associated with BED is likely to result in obesity and other associated complications. The condition runs a chronic course and it can take a long time for the sufferer to reach out for help.

BED is a serious eating disorder which causes individuals to develop a compulsive and uncontrollable relationship with food. Binge eating disorder is characterised by frequent episodes of compulsive overeating, which involves the sufferer eating a huge amount of food in one sitting, and in an uncontrolled or frenzied manner, until they go beyond the point of being comfortably full.

However, unlike anorexia and bulimia, binge eating is not associated with purging behaviours such as self-induced vomiting or abusing laxatives, and as such, this disorder can lead BED sufferers to becoming obese.

Why do I overeat?

People with BED often turn to binge eating as a means of coping with other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, stress and other uncomfortable emotions. Rarely, the condition can exist just on its own.

The act of bingeing can cause BED sufferers to experience intense feelings of guilt, disgust, and low self-esteem which can then lead to more emotional eating, and the development of what can feel like a ‘vicious circle’.

In addition, compulsive overeating tends to happen in private and as such, the specific behaviours that are associated with this condition can sometimes be difficult to spot and diagnose.

For example, individuals with BED may eat a normal amount of healthy food throughout the day and in public, but then binge eat at night in the privacy of their own home. Therefore, even if these individuals do become overweight, other people may not be able to see a reason for why this might be the case.

Unlike anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, BED tends to affects both men and women equally and research suggests that this condition is more common in adults between the ages of 20 and 40. For more information on the prevalence and statistics that are associated with binge eating, you can visit our eating disorder statistics page.

What causes BED?

As with other eating disorders, research demonstrates that it is likely that there are a combination of factors that can lead to someone requiring expert support for binge eating, including psychological, genetic and socio-cultural influences. These include:

  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Social and cultural pressures to attain a certain type of 'ideal' body
  • If a family member has experienced an eating disorder
  • The pressing need to alter/numb negative emotional states such as anxiety, depression, stress, anger and feelings of emotional ‘emptiness’, by using food
  • Stressful or traumatic events such as abuse or bereavement
  • As a result of a strict diet that excluded certain food groups, and involved calorie control or skipping meals

Sometimes, there may not be any identifiable reason for someone to start or maintain the binge eating.

Binge eating disorder treatment at Priory

Our specialists at Priory are committed to addressing the underlying causes and triggers for your BED, in order to reduce your unhealthy binge eating behaviours, promote health and wellbeing and help you stop overeating. Our expert eating disorder treatment plans are tailored according to individual needs, in order to result in the best possible outcomes for each and every one of our patients.

It is important to recognise that if you think that you or someone that you know is struggling with BED or compulsive overeating, this condition is treatable and the most crucial first step is to seek expert support and treatment for your binge eating. Our expert BED treatment teams, located throughout our extensive national network of hospitals and wellbeing centres, consist of highly skilled psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, nurses and other eating disorder specialists. We are dedicated to empowering each individual who seeks support to overcome their binge eating behaviours, develop an understanding of their unhealthy eating habits and compulsions, and ultimately take steps towards a healthy, fulfilling and positive way of life.

Treatment for binge eating disorder

The treatment that we provide for binge eating disorder (BED) at Priory is designed to help you to identify the behavioural and emotional mechanisms that underpin your unhealthy relationship with food, along with the consequences of overeating. Before equipping you with the skills to address these challenges in order to reduce and overcome your binge eating behaviours and claim back your self-control.

The type and length of the binge eating disorder treatment that you receive, is dependent upon the severity of your condition, the nature of your symptoms, whether you have other mental health conditions in addition to binge eating, as well as your personal needs and requirements.

We are able to deliver exceptional BED treatment in an outpatient, day care or inpatient (residential) capacity, which will be recommended based upon the intensity of the binge eating help and support that you require. In most individuals, outpatient treatment is all that is needed.

We are also able to deliver high quality family and couples therapy during BED treatment, in order to support you and your loved ones throughout the treatment and recovery process, and manage stress, difficult emotions, and problematic relationships that have arisen as a result of your destructive binge eating habits.

You can read more about these different treatment options on our approach to eating disorder treatment page.

Our specialist treatment environments are supportive, compassionate and non-judgemental, and provide you with the perfect place to undergo world class therapy, and take steps towards a strong and lasting recovery.

Furthermore, Priory’s extensive nationwide network of hospitals and wellbeing centres, mean that you can access the high quality support that you need in a location that is convenient for you, and in a way that can be flexible around your needs and personal commitments.

Treatment and counselling for binge eating disorder

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for BED

CBT is a widely-used therapeutic technique, which has been shown to be highly effective in the treatment of a wide variety of mental health conditions and eating disorders, including BED.

CBT is based on the principle that eating disorders and destructive behaviours arise and are exacerbated as a result of deep-rooted, negative thought patterns.

In the context of binge eating, these negative beliefs and thought processes can prevent individuals from making healthy choices about eating habits, food, and diet, and can cause a lack of self-belief in your ability to recover from your eating disorder.

As such the purpose of CBT is to challenge and change these dysfunctional thought patterns, in order to resolve the resulting negative behaviour.

Specialist eating disorder interventions

Our highly trained eating disorder experts are also able to deliver a range of specialist interventions that have been specifically designed to treat individuals who are struggling with an eating disorder, including binge eating disorder (BED). These include:

  • Dietetic input
  • Supported meals
  • Food exposure interventions
  • Body image workshops

At Priory, we are also able to prescribe specific antidepressant medication which can help to treat any co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression.

Support for families and loved ones

We also provide support for the families, carers and loved ones of our eating disorder patients, helping you to learn how to support your loved one in their recovery. Please visit our approach to eating disorder treatment page for more information about our family support sessions.

A highly skilled binge eating disorder treatment team

Our eating disorder experts possess unrivalled clinical experience and expertise in this area, and are able to deliver a wide variety of tried and tested therapeutic methods to treat your binge eating disorder (BED) symptoms, and help you to identify the source of your harmful binge eating behaviours. All of the treatment that you receive at Priory is tailored according to your unique condition, needs, and circumstances, in order to ensure that you benefit from a truly personalised package of care and the most positive outcomes for you as an individual. You will also be involved in all decisions that are made about your care and treatment, so that you are placed at the centre of your binge eating disorder treatment journey and can take steps towards achieving a bespoke and sustainable recovery.

It is important to recognise that without timely and professional treatment, your compulsive overeating may become increasingly more severe over time and can have a devastating impact on your psychological wellbeing, your ability to function in your day-to-day life, and can also result in a range of enduring physical health problems. At Priory, we understand that it can be overwhelming to seek support for binge eating disorder, but you can be assured that we are here to help you every step of the way towards overcoming this devastating eating disorder, and returning to the happy, productive and BED-free life that you deserve.

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Murali Sekar (MBBS, MRCPsych) in October 2022.

Signs and symptoms of BED
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What is the difference between BED and food addiction?
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Young people and BED
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Crisis care at Priory
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