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Binge-eating disorder

The causes, triggers, and treatments for this chronic disorder.

Binge-eating disorder, or compulsive eating, is an eating disorder that is often triggered by chronic dieting and involves periods of overeating. People with binge-eating disorder commonly eat in secret and eat for comfort.

Binge-eating causes Eating disorders usually have more than one cause: Low self-esteem, depression, loneliness or anger may be contributing factors. Troubled relationships, a history of physical or sexual abuse and unrealistic images of thin bodies in the media may also contribute.

Binge-eating symptoms People with binge-eating disorder experience periods of impulsive, uncontrolled or continuous eating, feel out of control and unable to stop eating, and eat quickly and in secret, often feeling guilty and ashamed of their binges. They may have a history of diet failures and may be obese — about one in five obese people engage in binge eating.

Binge-eating diagnosis/tests If your doctor suspects you have an eating disorder, she will likely talk to you about your eating habits, do a physical exam, order blood and urine tests and do a psychological evaluation. She may also want to send you for tests on your heart or gallbladder to check for problems that may occur as a result of binge-eating disorder.

Binge-eating treatment Binge eating is best treated by helping patients reduce bingeing, improve self-esteem, learn to accept their bodies, while treating any underlying psychological problems, such as depression and anxiety. However, some obesity experts advise treating the obesity first.

Binge-eating prevention There is no known way to prevent binge-eating disorder. But as is the case with other eating disorders, getting help early on can help prevent long-term health problems that can result from the disorder.

Outside resources
Canadian Mental Health Association
National Eating Disorder Information Centre