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What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder that can affect children and teenagers. Kids who have binge eating disorder often eat way too much food very quickly. They usually do it in secret and feel guilty and ashamed. Children and teenagers with binge eating disorder cannot control their eating.  

Kids with binge eating disorder may be normal weight or overweight. Unlike another eating disorder called bulimia nervosa, children with binge eating disorder do not try to get rid of the food by making themselves vomit or taking laxatives. 

What are the symptoms of binge eating disorder?

Signs of binge eating disorder include: 

  • Eating very large amounts of food 
  • Eating when not hungry 
  • Eating very fast 
  • Eating so much that they feel sick 
  • Eating in secret when they think no one will notice 
  • Feeling depressed, anxious or ashamed about overeating 
  • Repeatedly losing weight and then gaining it back  

Kids with binge eating disorder may be overweight, but they can also be normal weight. 

How is binge eating disorder diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with binge eating disorder, a child must eat a lot of food very quickly and not be able to control their overeating. This must happen at least twice a week for at least six months. The child must also show at least three of the symptoms listed above. 

Kids who vomit or take laxatives after overeating are diagnosed with bulimia nervosa instead of binge eating disorder. 

How is binge eating disorder treated?

The main goal of treatment for binge eating disorder is to build healthier eating habits and stop binging. Treatment can involve therapy, medication and self-help programs. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common therapies for binge eating disorder. CBT teaches kids healthier ways of dealing with upsetting emotions so that they can replace overeating with more positive habits that leave them feeling better about themselves. A form of CBT called interpersonal therapy can help the child to understand the difficult relationships that may make them turn to overeating.  

If therapy on its own doesn’t work, kids with binge eating disorder may also be prescribed antidepressant or anticonvulsant medication. 

Sometimes, treatment for binge eating disorder includes behavioral programs to help with weight loss. However, not all children with binge eating disorder need to lose weight. 

This guide was last reviewed or updated on December 12, 2023.