Binge eating is characterized by overeating in a certain period of time. Often, the binge eater will eat very quickly or past the point of being satiated and to the point that he or she feels physically uncomfortable. Depression or guilt after binge eating may follow. Some experts say that the eating period must last a couple hours to be considered a binge, but this is disputed. While many people display one or more of these behaviors occasionally during their lives, binge eating may rise to the level of a serious eating disorder when it occurs frequently and cannot be controlled.
Probably the most common eating disorder that binging is associated with is bulimia, or more formally, bulimia nervosa. Bulemics not only binge eat, but they also purge. That is, they force out the food they just ate by vomiting, or using diuretics or laxatives. Additionally, bulemics may fast or exercise excessively. A person with bulimia might also attempt to control their food intake by dieting, but doing so can cause even more binges.
Binge eating is also sometimes referred to as its own disorder — binge-eating disorder. While not yet officially classified as a mental disorder, some mental health professionals use it as a diagnostic category and distinguish it from bulimia by the absence of purging after binging.
Regardless of their diagnosis, a person who binges will often obsess about food and about keeping others from knowing how much they eat. He or she may also obsess about his or her weight and physical appearance. Binge eating is very unhealthy and can lead to a wide variety of serious health complications. Anyone who suspects a loved one might be binge eating should immediately consult a doctor or mental health professional.
Binge eating can be treated with the help of a mental health professional. A mental health professional can help the binge eater address the underlying problem behaviors and beliefs and replace them with more appropriate and healthy ones. Medications may be prescribed in conjunction with therapy to help the person achieve healthy weight control, proper nutrition, and a healthy amount of exercise. Self-help books and support groups focused on binge eating can often be useful tools to supplement professional help.