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HealthInfo Canterbury

About binge eating

People with binge-eating disorder (or compulsive overeating) go through periods of eating too much when they aren't actually hungry. They often feel that they can't control their eating, yet constantly try to gain control through dieting or fasting.

People with this eating disorder feel compelled to binge eat in a way that's very like bulimia. However, they don't purge what they've eaten, like people with bulimia do.

There's a strong connection between dieting and diet thinking, and binge-eating disorder. Fasting, restricting food intake, and characterising certain foods as good or bad, lead to a negative cycle of food cravings and obsessions, overeating, and then to feelings of guilt and shame. People with binge-eating disorder are likely to become overweight.

Binge eating is also often called emotional eating. For many people who binge eat, food provides comfort or distraction. It might also be a way of dealing with feelings, and coping with the stresses and strains of everyday life. This relationship between eating and feelings happens more in women who binge eat. People who binge eat often have other mental health conditions that contribute to their binge eating.


Binge-eating disorder often develops because of a combination of several other things. A person with binge-eating disorder may be struggling with traumatic or unresolved past experiences, social pressure to look a certain way, and negative emotions or thoughts about themself.

Warning signs of binge-eating disorder

The warning signs of binge-eating disorder can include: frequent weight fluctuations; weight gain; frequent dieting; alternating between eating and fasting; rapid eating and eating until uncomfortably full; eating alone or in secret; obsession with food and eating.

How binge eating affects health

If you binge eat you may experience depression, anxiety, feelings of shame, obsessive thoughts and preoccupations. If binge-eating makes you overweight or obese, you may also have increased risk of heart disease, stroke, bowel cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine and endometrial cancers, arthritic damage to your joints, and diabetes.

What can help?



Written by the Eating Awareness Team, St John of God Waipuna. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by the South Island Eating Disorders Service, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed December 2017.


Page reference: 73567

Review key: HIEDI-73561