Compulsive eating and binge eating

The warning signs of Binge Eating Disorder can be physical, psychological and behavioural. It is possible for someone with Binge Eating Disorder to display a combination of these symptoms.

Psychological Symptoms

  • Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight
  • Extreme body dissatisfaction and shame about their appearance
  • Feelings of extreme distress, sadness, anxiety and guilt during and after a binge episode
  • Low self esteem
  • Increased sensitivity to comments relating to food, weight, body shape, exercise
  • Depression, anxiety or irritability

Physical Symptoms

  • Feeling tired and not sleeping well
  • Feeling bloated, constipated or developing intolerances to food
  • Stomach pain
  • Irregular periods
  • Poor skin
  • Weight gain, obesity                   

Behavioural Signs

  • Evidence of binge eating (e.g. disappearance or hoarding of food)
  • Secretive behaviour relating to food (e.g. hiding food and food wrappers around the house)
  • Evading questions about eating and weight
  • Increased isolation and withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed
  • Erratic behaviour (e.g. shoplifting food or spending large amounts of money on food)
  • Self harm, substance abuse or suicide attempts

The risks associated with Binge Eating Disorder are severe. People with Binge Eating Disorder may experience:

  • Osteoarthritis - a painful form of degenerative arthritis in which a person’s joints degrade in quality and can lead to loss of cartilage
  • Chronic kidney problems or kidney failure
  • High blood pressure and/or high cholesterol leading to increased risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease

Self-help is often the first suggested treatment for binge eating disorders. Your GP might recommend books or self-help courses. There are also a number of self-help e-books and library books in our Wellbeing Library. There are also a number of peer support groups, helplines and online support groups that you might also find helpful. See the drop-down 'Self-help' below.

Following self-help, if your binge eating disorder is persistent, your GP may recommend psychological treatments. Medication can also be recommended, as they can help reduce the behaviour patterns associated with binge eating disorder.

The path to recovery can be very challenging but it can also shed light on what contributes to binge eating, low self-esteem and negative body image, and how to minimise relapse. Through the process of recovery a person with Binge Eating Disorder can learn how to replace their unhealthy eating habits with more helpful coping strategies.

Guidelines on treatment for eating disorders provided by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) tell you what you can expect from the NHS. Visit NICE for a downloadable leaflet:

A few tips

  • Working out some strategies that help you prevent binges can help you end the cycle. For example, using strategies such as walking, meditation or reading, to ground yourself and focus on what’s important, can help reduce binges.
  • Having a solid support system, such as a therapist, online community or a support group, with whom you can share your struggle with, can make a huge difference.
  • Most people have certain foods that trigger binges. If this applies to you, don’t keep those foods in your cupboards. There is no reason to make things harder for yourself than they need to be.
  • Eating a balanced diet, containing carbohydrates for energy (found in oats, beans, breakfast cereals and potatoes), fruit and vegetables for vitamins and minerals that can improve mood, protein (in eggs, fish, meat, poultry, milk, beans and pulses) to help strengthen the immune system, and high fibre foods (cereals, oats, lentils, fruit and vegetables) to regulate bowel movements, are all essential to help prevent binges.
  • A regular, healthy eating pattern helps to displace binges. Establishing a regular eating pattern of 3 meals day plus 2/3 planned snacks, can help reduce urges to binge.
  • It only takes avoiding a binge a few times to prove to yourself that you can. The mark of successfully ending binge eating happens one binge at a time. Take each day at a time with small achievable targets. 

There are a number of very good self-help resources available. These resources can tell you about ways other people have found to get better, can suggest some of the reasons why you may be feeling as you do and can give practical suggestions of measures you can take in your life to try to recover.

Brain Over Binge

Brain Over Binge is a website created by Kathryn Hansen, author of Brain over Binge: Why I Was Bulimic, Why Conventional Therapy Didn’t Work and How I Recovered for Good. Full of useful tips, advice and podcasts to help you towards recovering from Binge and Emotional overeating.

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Self-Help

These leaflets developed by the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust providing information and exercises from a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) perspective.

Here you will find an excellent leaflet aimed at helping you improve your health and wellbeing by making changes to your eating and activity levels:

Reading Well Books on Prescription

Reading Well Books on Prescription is an early intervention service to help people understand and manage their mental health. The agency provides a core book list of accredited titles recommended by healthcare professionals that covers a range of common mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, phobias and eating disorders. These can be recommended/referred to by G.P or health care professional.

For lists of books available go to

Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI)

A resource designed to provide information, strategies and techniques to change thinking patterns associated with disordered eating. It is organised into modules that are designed to be worked through in sequence, each including information, worksheets and suggested exercise or activities.

Diet or Disorder App

The Diet or Disorder App is an evidence-based app to help you better understand eating disorders, signs and symptoms, treatment and recovery. Available on iPhone and Android, you can find out more here.

Recovery Road App

The recovery road app is an evidence-based recovery-focused app for eating disorders. Delevoped by professionals it helps you to track your recovery progress and learn new coping skills. Find out more by clicking here.

Wellbeing Services Library 

Take a look at the books available in our library. All books in the Wellbeing Library can be borrowed by providing your student details to staff at the reception desk. 


Videos can provide you with a wealth of information in a short space of time. Below we have a list of short films/clips and videos which give information about eating disorders, personal recovery stories and tips for taking the first steps towards seeking help.

Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group

An Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group run by Exeter Student Minds at the University of Exeter. For more information click here.

Exeter Depression and Anxiety Service (DAS)

A free, confidential, NHS talking therapy service offering effective treatments and therapies, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which can help you get your life back on track. You may self-refer for a range of difficulties including binge eating disorder, by completing their online registration form. To find out more, visit their website here.

Telephone: 01392 675630


Somerset & Wessex Eating Disorders Association (SWEDA) offers a range of services throughout Somerset and the surrounding area. 

Based at Shepton Mallet in Somerset, in the Southwest of England (UK), they provide support to anyone affected by eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, compulsive eating, binge eating disorder and all related conditions.

Their services include Counselling Services, and a monthly Self-help Support Group.

British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) 

If you would like to find a private counsellor who specialises in eating disorders to help you cope with your difficulty and make positive change, you can find a qualified, experienced therapist in your area by using the Find a Therapist search tool -

British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)

The BABCP provide details for accredited therapists working within the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy model -

Mental Health Foundation

The Mental Health Foundation provides up-to-date research and studies to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health. There are links to articles, blogs and research.

Overeaters Anonymous

OA offers information and runs groups to assist with personal recovery from compulsive overeating. They hold weekly meetings in Exeter, too.

NHS Choices

The NHS Choices website has information about conditions and treatments as well as services and hospitals.

NHS Direct

NHS Direct provide 24-hour medical advice and information. They have comprehensive information and advice on all types of eating disorders, videos of people’s experiences, an eating disorder forum, and other useful links.

Telephone: 111

Student Minds

Student Minds is the UK’s student mental health charity. Its aim is to empower students with the knowledge, confidence and skills to look after their own mental health and support others.

There is an excellent section written for school leavers and students with experience of eating disorders. The information here has been written by individuals with experience of eating disorders and health care professionals to help you think proactively about what you can do to support yourself through university or college. It also includes some inspirational recovery stories.


Mind are a national charity who offer information on all mental illnesses. They have specific leaflets and information sheets on eating disorders.

Tel: 020 8519 2122

Information Line: 0845 660163

You can download a booklet entitled, Understanding Eating Problems here:


Fixers offer online support and have a range of young people’s stories, family’s personal experiences and expert information about eating disorders.


If you have an eating disorder or know someone who does, you may find it useful to contact a support group such as B-eat for information and advice.

Beat provides:

  • a confidential helpline on 0808 801 0677 – they also have a designated youth helpline on 0808 801 0711 (all year round, 4– 10pm)
  • live chat and online support groups, where you can talk to others in a similar situation
  • a national network of volunteer support groups

You can also use the Beat HelpFinder directory to find eating disorder support services in your local area.

National Centre for Eating Disorders (NCFED)

NCFED provides information and advice about eating disorders, including recommendations for treatment options as well as support for carers, recovery workshops, residential treatment and professional training.

Anorexia and Bulimia Care (ABC)

Provide on-going care, emotional support and practical guidance for anyone affected by eating disorders. We support and care for those struggling personally and resource and equip parents, families, friends and professionals. There is also a helpline run by trained staff, who have both professional and personal experience of eating disorders.

Telephone: 03000 11 12 13

Eating Disorder Hope

Pro-recovery movement for Christians and people of faith.

Eating Disorder Hope are passionate about helping eating disorder sufferers find hope, health and healing. They believe that each individual is precious and uniquely designed by God. Eating disorders hinder the sufferer in their journey of life by crippling their ability to use their gifts and talents in ways that provide personal fulfilment and happiness. Recovery from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders allows individuals to meaningfully participate and contribute to the world.


Samaritans offer a 24 hour online and telephone support service, when you need emotional support and someone to talk to anytime. You can call their free and confidential helpline 24/7 on 116 123.