Binge eating disorder
Binge eating disorder involves eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time, on a regular basis. You may also feel you cannot control your eating, or that during binges you feel numb or zone out and are less aware of what you are doing.
You can develop binge eating disorder at any age, but it usually starts in your late teens or early 20s, and is rarer in children. Binge eating disorder can be ongoing, but commonly goes in cycles of getting better and worse. This means that you could be symptom-free for weeks or months before the binge eating behaviours return again.
People with binge eating disorder usually binge eat when they’re on their own. You might plan the binge eating in advance and might have certain foods which you include. This type of eating would make you feel uncomfortably full and you might feel guilty or ashamed afterwards.
Binge eating disorder is different to bulimia nervosa, because binge eating disorder does not usually involve weight control measures such as purging (self-induced vomiting or laxative use) or excessive exercise. If you have binge eating disorder you may have a normal eating pattern between binges, or may sometimes skip meals.
People who have binge eating disorder are more often overweight, but can also be a normal weight. The main physical health risks for people who have binge-eating disorder are related to being overweight.
- How can I get help?
Binge eating disorder is often a problem that is kept hidden, as sometimes people can feel embarrassed or ashamed. People with binge eating disorder often wait many years before getting help.
It can also be difficult to diagnose binge eating disorder in children and young people because while you are growing your appetite and eating patterns can vary, with growth spurts and changes in activity levels. Binge eating disorder is also less widely known than anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, so people are less aware that it is a mental health condition that can be treated.
If you are worried that you have binge eating disorder, you should talk to your GP who will be able to refer you for help. They may need to find out more about your eating patterns, general health and growth to check that there isn’t another reason for your binge eating.
If it is likely that you have binge eating disorder your GP can refer you to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) or to the children and young people’s community eating disorders service (CYP-CEDS). You can find more information about mental health referrals here and more information about local mental health services here.
- Planning treatment
The first step is to assess whether you have binge eating disorder, or whether your binge eating may be part of another eating disorder such as bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. Your assessment should also look at whether you could have any other mental health conditions such as depression.
Your professional should ask about whether something in particular might have triggered your binge eating disorder, anything that might be keeping it going and the kinds of support that you and your family might need. As part of your assessment you may also need to have a review of your physical health.
There isn’t much research on binge eating disorder in children and young people and treatment recommendations are often based on what works for adults. Your professional should adapt these recommendations to your age and specific needs, such as whether it would be helpful to involve your parents or carers in your treatment.
Psychological treatments for binge eating disorder focus on your binge eating behaviour rather than weight loss and these treatments will have a limited effect on your body weight.
The treatments you are likely to be offered by your professional are briefly described in this section. To find out more about each treatment, please click the links.
Guided self-help programmes
You could be offered guided self-help as the first step in your treatment. Guided self-help involves working through a self-help book. You would usually be offered sessions with a professional to support you during the self-help programme.
Eating disorder-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT-ED)
If self-help is not right for you or has not helped with your binge eating, then you should be offered eating disorder-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT-ED).
Your professional might suggest that you try group CBT-ED first, but you could also have individual CBT-ED if you prefer or if there isn’t a group for young people of your age in your area.
Other treatments for binge eating disorder
Other treatments such as interpersonal therapy and medication are sometimes offered to adults with binge eating disorder, but there is much less evidence about whether they are helpful for children and young people.
If you have another physical health condition (e.g., diabetes) that might be affected by your binge eating disorder, then your eating disorder team should work with your physical health professionals to coordinate your physical and mental health care.
- What about my parents or carers?
For other eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, treatments which involve parents or carers are usually more helpful. There has been less research on this for binge eating disorder, partly because most of the research on binge eating disorder has been carried out with adults.
There is a type of eating disorder-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT-ED) that includes sessions with parents or carers. This involves helping them to understand binge eating disorder and what they can do to help, and might be suggested by your professional.
The wellbeing of your parents or carers is important. Your team should make sure they receive any support they need, which could include practical support, emergency plans or emotional support.
- Transitions between services
Transitioning from CAMHS to adult services can be a worrying time. To help it go smoothly, your professional should leave plenty of time to work with you on planning the change. You should be given clear information about what to expect from adult services and during your transition a professional from the adult service should join your CAMHS meetings to get to know you and your family. You should be able to talk to them about any concerns you have.
For more information about transitioning between services, please see Moving on.
- Additional support
The below organisations offer binge eating disorder specific support for children, young people and their families:
- AFC Crisis Messenger: a free, confidential, 24/7 text message support service for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed or is struggling to cope. If you need support, you text AFC to 85258.
- Beat: UK charity which offers support including free helpline to those affected by eating disorders
- Childline: Childline is there to help anyone under 19 in the UK with any issue they’re going through. Whether it’s something big or small, their trained counsellors are there to support you
- eating disorders support: charity offering free eating disorders support by phone or email
- Supportline: charity offering helpline for people of all ages on a wide range of issues including anger, eating disorders, self-harm, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and addictions
- TalkED: UK charity offering emotional support and practical advice for those affected by an eating disorder
- The Mix: support and advice for children and young people under 25
Treatments outlined on these webpages may not be available in every local area. It’s important that you discuss with your GP or mental health professional the treatment options available to you. You can also search for services near you on our Youth Wellbeing Directory and find out more about referral processes here.