Validity and utility of the current definition of binge eating

Int J Eat Disord. 2009 Dec;42(8):674-86. doi: 10.1002/eat.20728.


Objective: Binge eating, a cardinal symptom of bulimia nervosa (BN) and binge eating disorder (BED), continues to pose challenges in terms of its definition and thus construct validity and clinical utility. This article reviews the available empirical data that support or refute the current DSM-IV-TR defined characteristics of a binge episode.

Method: A systematic literature review was conducted using Medline/PubMed electronic database on DSM-IV-TR defined binge characteristics and associated attributes.

Results: Data support the current DSM guidelines indicating that binge episodes typically occur in less than 2 h. Size of binge episodes has variability across BN and BED diagnostic groups. Loss of control (LOC) continues to be a core feature of binge eating. Negative affect is the most widely reported antecedent. Strikingly, little is known about binge episodes among individuals with anorexia nervosa-binge/purge subtype.

Discussion: Available empirical evidence supports the current DSM duration and LOC attributes of a binge episode in BN and BED. However, a more controversial issues is the extent to which size is important in the definition of a binge episode (e.g., subjective vs. objective episodes) across diagnostic categories and the extent to which binge size informs prognosis, treatment, and clinical outcomes. Further study of binge eating attributes in AN is needed.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Binge-Eating Disorder / classification
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / diagnosis
  • Bulimia / classification
  • Bulimia / diagnosis*
  • Bulimia Nervosa / classification
  • Bulimia Nervosa / diagnosis*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Feeding Behavior / classification
  • Humans
  • Surveys and Questionnaires