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Binge Eating and Bipolar Disorder

Many people with bipolar disorder have a complicated relationship with food.  Most are overweight, and food sensitivities are more common.

For many, the poor impulse control found in people with BP can lead to binge eating.

I’m sorry to post this right after Thanksgiving.  During the holiday season opportunities for overeating are enormous.  No one should feel bad about overindulging during a feast.

Binge eating is different.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA): Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating.

Nearly 20% of people with BP also engage in binge eating.

Binge Eating Disorder was found equally in men and women with BP and occurred at the same rate in people with bipolar disorder 1 & 2.  The shorter the duration of bipolar disorder the higher the rate of BED.

I remember a time during my struggles with BP when I’d sit in the basement and eat a carton of ice cream every night.  I blamed it and the 45-pounds I gained on the valproic acid I was prescribed.  Many of the meds we take for BP list weight gain as a side effect.

The reality is more complicated.  The drugs may change our metabolism, but our behavior is just as likely to lead to weight gain.  NEDA is a good source of information about the behavioral aspects of BED.

People with BP and BED share high levels of impulsivity, anxiety and emotional reactivity.  It’s common for a person with BP to feel they’ve lost control of their behavior, and it’s difficult to stop a behavior once one dives into it – even if the behavior becomes unpleasant or even dangerous.

When Bipolar Disorder and Binge Eating Disorder are co-morbid, something as basic and enjoyable as eating can become a health threat, and a threat to one’s sense of stability and self-esteem.

Like BP, once the symptoms of BED have settled in, they are extremely difficult to counter.  Professional help is warranted.  The hopeful fact is that in treating BP and BED together, many of the complicating factors they share can be dealt with simultaneously as each condition improves.

The important point is, once you’ve accepted that you have either, or both, conditions, don’t beat yourself up over the lack of control in your life.  You can regain that control.  Help is available, and necessary.



Binge Eating and Bipolar Disorder

George Hofmann

George is the author of Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis, from Changemakers Books. Visit George's site or join the Facebook group Practicing Mental Illness

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APA Reference
Hofmann, G. (2019). Binge Eating and Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Nov 2019
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