Binge Eating Disorder Basics

A child with binge eating disorder regularly consumes unusually large amounts of food in short periods of time, often in secret, feeling out of control. In this guide you'll find tips on how to spot the symptoms of binge eating disorder, and how it's diagnosed and treated.

Binge Eating: What Is It?

While everyone may overeat occasionally, a child with binge eating disorder regularly consumes unusually large quantities of food in relatively short periods of time, with the feeling that her overeating is out of her control. Children or adolescents affected by the disorder overeat compulsively, often in secret and with great embarrassment or guilt. Binge eaters can be of normal weight, overweight, or obese. And unlike bulimia, binge eating does not involve “purging,” or self-induced throwing up.

Binge Eating: What to Look For

A child who has binge eating disorder is not necessarily overweight. Signs to look out for include eating unusually large quantities of food, eating when she is not hungry, eating rapidly, and feeling depressed, disgusted or ashamed about her eating habits. Children and adolescents who have the disorder will often hide their binge eating from those around them, making the symptoms particularly hard to detect. It is also common for those affected to lose and gain weight repeatedly, which is known as “yo-yo dieting.”

Binge Eating: Risk Factors

The disorder may run in families, so a child with a family history of binge-eating disorder is more likely to develop it.

Binge Eating: Diagnosis

For a child to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder, she must repeatedly eat unusually large amounts of food in relatively short periods of time, and feel that those fixed periods of intense eating are beyond his or her control. To qualify for the disorder, at least three of the following factors must be present in a child’s behavior: eating rapidly, eating to the point of uncomfortable fullness, eating when not hungry, eating in shame or in secret, and feeling disgusted, depressed or ashamed after eating. The behavior must occur at least twice a week for a period of six months. It does not, like bulimia, involve self-induced vomiting after overeating.

Binge Eating: Treatment

Treatments available for binge eating disorder include psychotherapy, medications, behavioral weight-loss programs and self-help strategies. The primary goal of treatment, to reduce or eliminate bingeing behavior, may go hand in hand with the goal of weight loss. However, not all children and adolescents with the disorder need to lose weight. Psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy in particular, can help patients deal with the issues that may trigger binge eating, such as a negative body image, anxiety, or depression. Interpersonal psychotherapy may assist with binge eating that is triggered by difficult relationships with others, including family members. While there is no medication specifically to treat binge eating disorder, although there is some limited evidence to suggest that antidepressants and the anticonvulsant topiramate (Topamax) may be helpful in treatment of particularly resisitant cases.

Binge Eating: Risk For Other Disorders

Careful evaluation to rule out bulimia is important. The most common accompanying disorders are bipolar disorder, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders.