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Health Questions

Binge eating

Definition

Binge eating is when a person eats a much larger amount of food in a shorter period of time than he or she normally would. During binge eating, the person also feels a loss of control.

Alternative Names

Eating - binge; Overeating - compulsive; Compulsive overeating

Considerations

A binge eater often:

  • Eats 5,000 - 15,000 calories in one sitting
  • Often snacks, in addition to eating three meals a day
  • Overeats throughout the day

Binge eating by itself usually leads to becoming overweight.

Binge eating may occur on its own or with another eating disorder, such as bulimia. People with bulimia typically eat large amounts of high-calorie foods, usually in secret. After this binge eating they often force themselves to vomit or take laxatives. For more information, see: Bulimia

Causes

The cause of binge eating is unknown. However, binge eating often begins during or after strict dieting.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you think you might have a pattern of binge eating or bulimia.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your eating patterns and symptoms.

Blood tests may be done.

Medication is usually not needed for this disorder. However, your health care provider may prescribe antidepressants if you are anxious or depressed.

Talk therapy is often recommended. Individual, group, family, and behavioral therapy may help.

Biofeedback training may also be recommended.

References

Treasure J, Claudino AM, Zucker N. Eating disorders. Lancet. 2010;375:583-593.

Hay PPJ, Bacaltchuk J, Stefano S, Kashyap P. Psychological treatments for bulimia nervosa and binging. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009, Issue 4.

Marcus MS, Wildes JE. Eating disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 226.

Gowers SG. Management of eating disorders in children and adolescents. Arch Dis Child. 2008;93:331-334.


Review Date: 2/11/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and David B. Merrill, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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