Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder characterized by recurring binge eating episodes.
These episodes often happen in private, with people consuming up to thousands of calories in one sitting. The person typically feels guilty later, but they refrain from using any methods of purging.
While BED is often considered a mild eating disorder, these actions can cause significant short-term and long-term damage. If left untreated, BED complications can even result in death.
Short-Term Consequences of Binge Eating Disorder
The disordered eating behaviors associated with BED can cause a number of short-term effects, or those that are felt and experienced right away.
Generally, these issues can also be treated or dealt with immediately, with someone seeing results once they start receiving treatment.
Still, short-term effects can feel distressing in the moment, and help perpetuate the unhelpful thoughts and behaviors of BED.
Binge eating episodes are considered those in which someone eats an amount of food that is definitively larger than most people would within a relatively short period of time. These episodes are often characterized by the sense of a loss of control over how much is consumed.
But people with BED don’t participate in compensatory behaviors to “undo” the effects of these binges.
This combination often leads to weight gain.
Researchers say in the year before entering treatment, people with BED gain an average of 15 pounds, with some gaining as much as 50 pounds. 
Many people with BED participate in diets. In fact, dieting is thought to contribute to the loss of control and hunger involved in some binging episodes.
These programs may lead people to temporarily lose some weight. But as they continue to struggle with binging episodes, the weight is typically put back on.
Aside from being expensive, in causing people to buy several sets of clothes, this type of weight cycling can be incredibly hard on—and dangerous for—the body.
The large quantities of food and drink consumed during a binging episode can bring on a number of digestive issues.
Stomach pain, bloating, nausea, and constipation are all common reactions to these influxes of food.
It’s also possible for some people’s stomachs to rupture during these episodes.  This is a serious complication, which can be life-threatening if not immediately treated.
People with BED often struggle with insomnia, and researchers say the issue is tied to mental health. 
People with BED often feel depressed about their weight and size, and they are anxious they will binge again in the future. When they lie down to sleep, these thoughts and others will continue to run through their heads, making it hard to sleep.
Since most binges happen in the evening, some people have insomnia due to digestion.  As the body works to break down the meal, sleep is harder to achieve.
Long-Term Effects of Binge Eating
People with BED are often adept at hiding their disordered eating behavior. They eat discreetly, often late at night, and many will not openly talk about their struggles.
In fact, many people struggle with this condition for years before getting help. And that delay can lead to long-term health problems.
While some of these consequences can be addressed through measures like surgery, others may take a long time, and several forms of therapy, for the person to completely overcome.
Among people with binge eating disorder, up to two-thirds are considered clinically obese. 
And unfortunately, that condition is associated with a number of potentially serious health risks, including: 
- Cardiovascular disease: High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are common in people with obesity.
- Breathing issues: Excess weight presses on the lungs, making clear breathing difficult. People with obesity can develop asthma and sleep apnea as a result.
- Joint problems: Carrying excess weight puts strain on bones, joints, and ligaments. People with obesity can develop osteoarthritis. And they may experience bone, joint, and muscle pain.
- Digestive disease: Gallstones and gallbladder disease are more common in people with obesity.
Obesity isn’t an appearance-related issue. It’s a serious medical condition that can shorten a person’s life.
Type 2 Diabetes
When weight cycling continues for a prolonged period of time, it can put a person at a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Continually losing and gaining weight can lead to decreased sensitivity to insulin—the hormone that helps the body regulate the amount of glucose, or sugar, in the blood.
And Type 2 diabetes is linked to a host of other potentially serious health concerns, including: 
- Cardiovascular disease
- Eye disease
- Kidney disease
- Nerve damage
More than half of the people with binge eating disorder say their condition interfered with their normal daily activities. 
Complications involved with the condition can leave people feeling too weak or uncomfortable to spend time with others. And social functions or gatherings involving food may be particularly triggering for people struggling with BED.
Sadly, people with binge eating disorder may also face teasing or bullying from others, which could drive them further into isolation.
Understand Binge Eating Disorder
One of the best ways to help someone struggling with binge eating disorder is to take the time to understand the condition, how it works, and how it may impact the person.
BED is not just composed of episodes of binge eating. The condition is also a deeply psychological one, often involving an undue amount of guilt, shame, and distress. These could lead to other issues the person may experience, or make it extremely difficult for them to talk to others about what they’re going through.
BED is also the most common eating disorder in the United States, impacting about 1.25% of adult women and 0.42% of adult men. 
It may be helpful to let someone struggling with BED know they’re not alone, and that help is available for the condition.
Finding Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder
Sadly, despite its widespread nature, it’s estimated that less than 30% of people with BED seek help for the disorder. 
Yet, a number of therapies and programs exist that may help people deal with the complex mixture of biological, social, and psychological factors that contribute to their condition.
If you think you or a loved one may have BED, it’s important to seek professional help immediately. If left untreated, binge eating disorder can cause numerous short-term and long-term health consequences.
Start by talking to your doctor about binge eating disorder, or call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237 to find out more about binge eating disorder treatment programs in your area.
And remember: help, healing, and a healthier future are always available to those who seek them.
- Blomquist, K. K., Barnes, R. D., White, M. A., Masheb, R. M., Morgan, P. T., & Grilo, C. M. (2011). Exploring weight gain in year before treatment for binge eating disorder: a different context for interpreting limited weight losses in treatment studies. The International journal of eating disorders; 44(5):435–439.
- Health Consequences. National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed September 2022.
- Kenny, T. E., Van Wijk, M., Singleton, C., & Carter, J. C. (2018). An examination of the relationship between binge eating disorder and insomnia symptoms. European eating disorders review : the journal of the Eating Disorders Association; 26(3):186–196.
- Harvey, K., Rosselli, F., Wilson, G. T., Debar, L. L., & Striegel-Moore, R. H. (2011). Eating patterns in patients with spectrum binge-eating disorder. The International journal of eating disorders; 44(5):447–451.
- Binge Eating Disorder. National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed September 2022.
- Consequences of Obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 2022. Accessed September 2022.
- Health Risks of Overweight and Obesity. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. February 2018. Accessed September 2022.
- Definition and Facts for Binge Eating Disorder. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. May 2021. Accessed September 2022.
- Statistics and Research on Eating Disorders. National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed September 2022.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published January 25, 2023, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on January 25, 2023, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC