This study addresses how visual food cues are encoded in reward related brain areas and whether this encoding might provide information to differentiate between patients suffering from eating disorders [binge‐eating disorder (BED) and bulimia nervosa (BN)], overweight controls (C‐OW), and normal‐weight controls (C‐NW). Participants passively viewed pictures of food stimuli and neutral stimuli in a cue reactivity design. Two classification analyses were conducted. First, we used multivariate pattern recognition techniques to decode the category of a currently viewed picture from local brain activity patterns. In the second analysis, we applied an ensemble classifier to predict the clinical status of subjects (BED, BN, C‐OW, and C‐NW) based on food‐related brain response patterns. The left insular cortex separated between food and neutral contents in all four groups. Patterns in the right insular cortex provided a maximum diagnostic accuracy for the separation of BED patients and C‐NW (86% accuracy, P < 10 −5, 82% sensitivity, and 90% specificity) as well as BN patients and C‐NW (78% accuracy, P = 0.001, 86% sensitivity, and 70% specificity). The right ventral striatum separated maximally between BED patients and C‐OW (71% accuracy, P = 0.013, 59% sensitivity, and 82% specificity). The right lateral orbitofrontal cortex separated maximally between BN patients and C‐OW (86% accuracy, P < 10 −4, 79% sensitivity, and 94% specificity). The best differential diagnostic separation between BED and BN patients was obtained in the left ventral striatum (84% accuracy, P < 10 −3, 82% sensitivity, and 86% specificity). Our results indicate that pattern recognition techniques are able to contribute to a reliable differential diagnosis of BN and BED. Hum Brain Mapp 33:2135–2146, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.