Binge eating is a common problem among overweight people and may complicate weight loss treatment. Addressing binge eating in treatment requires an understanding of the factors that trigger these episodes. Forty-two women were selected from a community sample that expressed interest in the study. An Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) method was used that enabled participants to monitor their eating, feelings and behaviours for 14 days, using programmable wristwatches, at random times, before all eating episodes and just after binge eating episodes. Of these, 18 BED women and 17 women with no BED (NBED) were retained for the statistical analyses. The most important finding was that BED and NBED subjects reported similar levels of binge eating when studied in this way. Negative affect, restraint and lower levels of positive affect were noted as antecedents for binge eating in both BED and NBED participants. Stress and desire to binge, however, were higher for BED participants, compared to NBED participants, prior to normal eating and binge eating episodes. EMA was a valuable method to make assessments of binge eating behaviours in participants' natural environment. BED and NBED participants showed more similarities than differences in terms of the frequency of binge eating as well as binge antecedents. Both EMA as well as the similarities between BED and NBED participants may have implications for the diagnosis of BED. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.