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

Considerations

Binge eating may occur on its own or in the context of an eating disorder, such as bulimia. Bulimia is most common among female adolescents and young adults. People with bulimia typically eat large amounts of high-calorie foods, usually in secret. After this binge eating they often force themselves to vomit. They have feelings of guilt or depression.

Complications from long-term bulimia include:

  • Abnormal increase in stomach size
  • Electrolyte abnormalities
  • Inflammation of the esophagus
  • Inflammation of the lining of the mouth
  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Inhaling food or fluid particles
  • Tooth decay

Constipation and hemorrhoids are also common in people with bulimia.

Although death from bulimia is rare, the disorder can cause health problems for years. It can be as severe as, or more severe than, anorexia nervosa.

Causes

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

Home Care

Taking steps to reduce your stress level may improve binge eating somewhat.

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

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

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

Your health care provider will perform a physical examination. He or she may ask you and one or more of your family members for a history of your eating patterns.

Your health care provider may ask the following medical history questions:

  • For how long have you been binge eating?
  • Are you also "purging" (such as forcing yourself to vomit or abusing laxatives)?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

Possible diagnostic tests include blood studies, such as electrolyte levels.

INTERVENTION

Behavior is usually controlled with:

References

Schmidt U, Lee S, Beecham J, et al. A randomized controlled trial of family therapy and cognitive behavior therapy guided self-care for adolescents with bulimia nervosa and related disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 2007;164:591-598.

Review Date: 2/7/2010
Reviewed By: 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., Inc.
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