What is binge eating disorder? – Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2021

Posted: 01/03/21

The UK has a dedicated week every year to raising awareness of eating disorders because they are serious mental health disorders, not lifestyle choices or fads. And although people’s understanding of them has improved over time, there are still lots of myths, stigmas, and misunderstandings that people have about eating disorders.

The theme for this year’s awareness week (chosen by Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity which leads Eating Disorders Awareness Week) is binge eating disorder. Compared to anorexia and bulimia this is a lesser-known illness, but just as serious and important to raise awareness of.

Specialist eating disorders services run by Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust are joining in with this national conversation to encourage a better, more helpful, and more hopeful understanding of this life-affecting and serious disorder.

Isn’t ‘binge eating’ just normal over-eating?

Most of us over-indulge from time to time; at Christmas, for example. But for people with binge eating disorder (BED) their over-eating is driven by a compulsion which feels out of control. They often over-eat in a secretive, hidden way, and this can cause them a lot of emotional distress. For someone with BED, the amount of food they eat is far more than an occasional indulgence. They might overeat a lot of food very quickly, or very frequently, and can struggle with binge eating for a significant length of time. This is often accompanied by intense feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, depression, and anger.

Are all people with binge eating disorder overweight?

You cannot tell if a person has any type of eating disorder simply by looking at them. Not all people who have BED are overweight, and not all people who are overweight binge eat. Someone of a healthy weight can still have a binge eating disorder. Gaining weight from binge eating is common, but it is not the only thing that determines whether someone has this disorder.

Can’t people overcome binge eating with willpower and dieting?

BED has a similar chemical pathway in someone’s brain as an addiction to drugs or other substances – so, just as with other addictions, willpower alone usually isn’t enough to overcome it. And dieting often means significantly restricting your food. That’s more likely to make the person struggle more, continuing the cycles of guilt, shame and secrecy which prevent people seeking the help they need. Dieting can trigger more disordered eating through a cycle of restricting and binging. So, while it might feel logical if you’ve never experienced an eating disorder, overcoming binge eating isn’t as simple as just sticking to a diet. Saying so implies that people with this disorder are weak or lazy, which isn’t true and doesn’t help them overcome it.

But binge eating doesn’t sound that serious, compared to other eating disorders?

Whilst anorexia does have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, that doesn’t mean other eating disorders aren’t serious. Binge eating disorder can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It can also cause low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression, leading to relationship difficulties, isolation, and loneliness. People with BED often struggle a lot because of their disorder.

Watch Beat’s campaign video all about binge eating disorder: 

If you feel that you, or a loved one, is suffering from an eating disorder, please contact your GP for advice.


Our eating disorders self-help guide is available in a range of accessible formats. It can help you understand more about your own or someone else’s eating disorder, and what support is available.

People can also find a range of useful information and resources at on the Beat website.