While it’s not unusual to occasionally overeat from time to time, people with binge eating disorder (BED) feel like they can’t control how much they consume and will binge to the point of being ill. Approximately 1.25% of women and 0.42% of men are diagnosed with this condition, making it the most common eating disorder in the United States. 

BED is a serious, dangerous, and potentially life-threatening condition that can affect people of every age. When left untreated, it can lead to severe health issues and, in extreme cases, even result in death. If you have symptoms of binge eating disorder, you must take the steps to receive a proper diagnosis so you can get the care you need. 

Read on to learn more about this common eating disorder, including how to get a binge eating disorder diagnosis, what you should expect during the process, and what options are available for treatment after diagnosis. 

How Is Binge Eating Disorder Diagnosed?

Weight is not a criterion for a BED diagnosis. People of any weight may be diagnosed with the condition. Professionals look at numerous factors when determining how to diagnose binge eating disorder. 

BED is a mental health condition listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), and there are exams and tests that are also a part of how binge eating is diagnosed. 

DSM-5 criteria

For someone to receive a binge eating disorder diagnosis, they must have repeated episodes of binge eating that occur once a week on average. Binges are characterized by eating a large amount of food during a distinct period of time and having a lack of control while eating. 

For a diagnosis, binge eating episodes must be present for at least 3 months and be accompanied by feelings of distress. To meet the diagnostic criteria for a binge eating disorder diagnosis, 3 or more of the behaviors must apply:

  • Eating more quickly than normal
  • Eating large quantities of food without feeling hungry
  • Eating enough food to feel uncomfortably full 
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment about your behavior
  • Feeling guilt, disgust, or depression after a binge episode

“It’s important to remember that even if you don’t fit all the criteria for an official BED diagnosis, the symptoms and behaviors are often challenging and cause distress. You don’t have to struggle alone — support is available. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed mental health professional to discuss your concerns.”

Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Binge eating can also be a symptom of other eating disorders, like bulimia nervosa. However, people with bulimia engage in compensatory behaviors, like purging, after a binging episode. These behaviors aren’t seen in people with BED. Similarly, people with anorexia nervosa starve themselves, a behavior also not seen with BED.

Tests & exams 

While binging is linked with binge eating disorder, it’s important to note that it can also be a sign of other issues. For example, many people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with inattention and impulse control, which studies show can contribute to overeating. Other medical conditions can also influence a person’s eating habits. 

For these reasons, an important component of how binge eating is diagnosed is ruling out other potential causes for destructive binging behaviors. Doctors may run a number of exams and tests before a diagnosis is made. Some of them might include:

  • Lab work: Blood work and specialized tests, such as a thyroid function test and/or urinalysis, can help identify health issues that might be contributing to binge eating.
  • Physical exam: Doctors will look at a patient’s height, body weight, and vital signs to see if there are any indicators of a serious health problem. 
  • Psychological evaluation: A mental health professional may ask questions about your mood, feelings, and eating habits. You might also be asked to complete a test to screen for BED or other conditions. 

“Getting a medical evaluation is important for anyone struggling with any eating disorder symptoms in order to monitor any impact on your physical well-being. Being upfront with your medical provider(s) about your symptoms will ensure you get proper care.”

Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

What to Do if You Get Diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder

Once you have received a diagnosis, it’s critical to make sure you seek the appropriate treatment for your condition so you can learn how to stop binge eating. Taking your diagnosis seriously can help you avoid negative health symptoms and can improve the chance of a positive outcome.  

Therapy and medications to treat binge eating disorder are both common. 

Seek therapy for BED

In therapy, you can learn to identify what causes binge eating. You’ll also likely focus on tools that will let you replace unhealthy habits with more appropriate and positive choices. Working with a therapist one-on-one can also help you process any guilt and shame associated with your binging. 

Some types of therapy recommend for BED include:

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy: While this type of therapy is primarily focused on strengthening interpersonal skills, interpersonal therapy can also help you identify relationships that might play a role in your unhealthy relationship with food. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of therapy that can increase your awareness of unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors so you can change them. Studies show that the types of CBT are highly effective at reducing binge eating. 

Medication options 

  • Vyvanse: Vyvanse is a stimulant used to treat ADHD. Currently, it’s the only medication that the FDA has approved for binge eating disorder treatment. In short-term studies, taking Vyvanse consistently reduced the number of binge-eating episodes in patients. 
  • Antidepressants: Many people who binge eat struggle with anxiety and depression. Not only can antidepressants treat those conditions, but they also might help address additional factors contributing to binge eating. Serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain can influence impulse control, mood, and appetite. Taking antidepressants can increase the levels of these chemicals, potentially reducing binge eating. 
  • Topiramate: Topiramate is an anticonvulsant that’s typically used to treat seizures. The medication is also associated with improved impulse control, which is why it’s been proposed as a potential BED treatment. While it may be effective at reducing binge eating, it hasn’t been as heavily studied yet and usually isn’t recommended as a first-line treatment. 

Get Connected with a Professional

Binge eating has serious health risks. If you’ve had recurrent episodes of binging, don’t hesitate to seek binge eating disorder treatment. Now that you know more about how binge eating is diagnosed, you can connect with a professional who can provide the help you need. 

Even if you don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder, a mental health provider can help you address any destructive eating habits. BED can make you feel like you’re out of control, but this condition is treatable. At Talkspace, you can connect with a therapist who knows how to diagnose binge eating disorder and provide you with treatment. 

Talkspace is an online therapy platform that offers convenient, affordable, accessible therapy wherever and whenever you need it. Find out how Talkspace can help you get and manage a binge eating disorder diagnosis.