What is the Most Common Eating Disorder?

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Aside from being dangerous, eating disorders are complex mental health conditions. Many factors can make it challenging to get accurate statistics on how many people struggle with certain eating disorders or eating disorders in general.

By some estimates, nearly 8 million Americans live with an eating disorder. [1] And though there are many types of eating disorders, or even disordered eating behaviors, which may not be part of an official diagnosis, it’s believed that the most common eating disorder in the United States is currently binge eating disorder (BED). [2]

Despite being one of the most recently defined eating disorders, BED is thought to affect 1.2% of the general population, compared to 0.3% for bulimia nervosa (BN) and 0.6% for anorexia nervosa (AN). [2] However, some treatments and therapies may be able to help people with binge eating disorder or other eating disorders.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is a mental health condition involving frequent episodes of binge eating. These episodes are defined as a period of time—usually two hours—during which someone eats much more food than others would in that given time. [3] Binge eating episodes are also marked by losing control over how much or what is eaten. [3]

When part of an official BED diagnosis, binging episodes also involve at least three of the following characteristics: [3]

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating large amounts of food even when not physically hungry
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Feelings of disgust, regret, guilt, or shame after a binge
  • Frequently eating alone to hide eating habits due to embarrassment

While it’s possible for everyone to experience overeating from time to time, those with an official BED diagnosis experience this type of eating behavior at least once a week over three consistent months. [3]

What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?

As with all eating disorders, binge eating disorder is the result of a mixture of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. When it comes to developing eating disorders, there is no one specific cause that leads to these conditions.

But with BED, there are many common experiences people with the disorder share, including: [4,5]

  • A heightened sensitivity to dopamine, a chemical responsible for pleasure
  • Frequently dieting, particularly restrictive diets that involve skipping meals or cutting out certain foods
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions, particularly depression or anxiety disorders
  • Cultural norms and beliefs about body image and weight

Who is impacted by BED?

Anyone can develop binge eating disorder, though the condition does present more frequently in certain populations. For example, BED is twice as likely to occur in women than in men. [4] Some evidence also suggests that BED may be more common in individuals with certain co-occurring mental health conditions. [5]

Since many people with BED gain weight as part of the condition, there’s a misconception that binge eating disorder is more highly associated with people in larger bodies. Still, a person’s body size is actually not a factor in the development of BED.

Many athletes have been found to struggle with binge eating disorder, especially those who follow strict weight requirements for their sports. That’s likely because an athlete—or anyone—who follows a restrictive diet to manage their weight experiences disruption in their hunger cues, which could drive the urge to binge. [6]

Signs and Symptoms of BED

There are several common signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder, including: [7]

  • Feeling uncomfortable or avoiding events that involve eating around others
  • Interest in fad diets or frequently dieting
  • Hoarding food
  • Hiding food or evidence of eating (e.g., candy wrappers hidden in a drawer)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Weight fluctuations, including both weight loss and weight gain
  • Skipping meals or fasting
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Gastrointestinal issues that don’t seem to have an underlying cause, such as bloating, constipation, acid reflux, and nausea

As with nearly all eating disorders, those with BED also tend to fixate on the subjects of food and eating or body image. [7] They may derive a sense of self-worth from their body weight, shape, or size, frequently compare themselves to others, or obsess over what and how much food they or other people eat. [7]

Other Common Eating Disorders

Binge eating disorder may be the most common eating disorder, but it’s unfortunately far from the only disruptive way of eating. Other frequently cited eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosaThe severe restriction of food intake based on an intense fear of gaining weight.
  • Bulimia nervosaMarked by cycles of binge eating and purging, including through unhelpful compensatory behaviors like self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse.
  • Avoidant restrictive food intake disorderA total disinterest in food; severe distaste for certain foods, mainly due to texture or color; or refusal to eat due to extreme fear of throwing up or choking.
  • PicaThe desire to eat things that are not considered food.
  • Rumination disorderRepeatedly regurgitating undigested or partially digested food

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders also includes a category called “other specified feeding and eating disorders” (OSFED). This designation is an umbrella category to include any conditions that may have a legitimate impact on someone’s mental and physical health but are not officially medically defined. Night eating syndrome and atypical anorexia nervosa are two types of conditions that may be considered OSFED.

Finding Help for an Eating Disorder

If you or a loved one are struggling with BED or another eating disorder, it’s important to seek out help.

Speaking with a primary care physician about your experience is one of the best places to start. Your doctor can refer you to treatment centers or provide information on additional treatment options. And if you’re uncomfortable speaking with someone in person, there are several eating disorder hotlines that offer anonymous access to resources and information.

The most important thing to remember is it’s never too late or too early to seek treatment. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can start your recovery journey.


  1. Eating Disorder Statistics. (n.d.). South Carolina Department of Mental Health. Accessed January 2024.
  2. Eating disorders. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed January 2024.
  3. Berkman ND, Brownley, K.A. (2015). DSM-IV and DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for binge-eating disorderComparative Effectiveness Reviews, 160.
  4. Davis C. (2015). The epidemiology and Genetics of Binge Eating Disorder (bed)CNS Spectrums20(6):522–529.
  5. Symptoms & Causes of Binge Eating Disorder. (n.d.). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed January 2024.
  6. Williams G. (2016). Binge eating and binge eating disorder in athletes: A review of theory and evidenceThe Sport Journal, 1543-9518.
  7. Binge eating disorder. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed January 2024.

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 April 15, 2024, on EatingDisorderHope.com