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Binge Eating Disorder Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

If you or someone you love has binge eating disorder (BED), we hope you find comfort in knowing that you are not alone, and that recovery is possible. BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States, yet it remains widely misunderstood. Marked by frequent episodes of overeating followed by distress and feelings of shame, BED has long been underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

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What is Binge Eating Disorder?

People with binge eating disorder (BED) regularly eat a larger amount than others would eat within the same timeframe. They often have trouble stopping the binge and feel physically and/or emotionally upset afterward.  Almost everyone overeats on occasion, such as eating past our fullness level when we are eating something we really enjoy. But, for some people, excessive eating that feels out of control and becomes a regular occurrence crosses the line to BED.

Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is caused by a complex combination of genetic, psychological and sociocultural factors.

Genetic Links

Several factors explain why binge eating disorders may be more likely to occur within certain families:

  • There are neurobiological components to eating disorders
  • A complex set of hormones influences how we experience hunger and fullness, impacting our relationship with food

Psychological Links

Psychological factors can also prime an individual to binge eat. Those with the following experiences are at higher risk for developing an eating disorder, including BED, which can then exacerbate these experiences:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative body image
  • Feelings of inadequacy and loneliness

In addition, individuals with binge eating disorder often struggle with co-occurring mood and anxiety disorders, have experienced trauma, or struggle to navigate developmental milestones and life changes.

Cultural and Societal Issues

The larger cultural narrative around dieting and weight loss, which has resulted in pervasive weight stigma, is a key socio-cultural factor influencing the development of binge eating disorder.

This also contributes to the common misconception that BED only impacts people in larger bodies, and that people in larger bodies can’t have restrictive eating disorders. We know that eating disorders affect people of all shapes and sizes, and that you cannot tell whether someone has an eating disorder by looking at them.

These cultural messages can reinforce disordered thoughts and behaviors for those struggling with eating disorders, including BED, leading to feelings of shame and embarrassment around food and body image.

Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by frequent overeating (bingeing) – at least once a week over a period of three months. These binge episodes are also combined with feeling a lack of control, intense feelings of distress and three or more behaviors. Read more about what is considered binge eating.

Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

  • Eating more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food even when not feeling physically hungry
  • Eating alone because of feelings of embarrassment stemming from how much one eats
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or guilty after eating

Health Risks of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder. Thankfully, it is also treatable with specialized, evidence-based care.

Just like with all eating disorders, you cannot tell whether someone has BED by looking at them. People who struggle with BED come in all shapes and sizes. However, when those with BED are living in larger bodies, they often face weight stigma when trying to access medical and behavioral health services and are dismissed with instructions to diet instead of diagnosing the eating disorder.

Weight stigma has also shaped how the medical field has historically defined health risks associated with BED, so it is important to note that all eating disorders may impact every organ system in your body, especially:

  • Cardiovascular system
  • Gastrointestinal system
  • Nervous system
  • Endocrine system

Limited access to medical and behavioral health services can lead to delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, or lack of diagnosis and treatment for people in larger bodies.

Do you think you or someone you know is suffering from this eating disorder? Take our short binge eating disorder quiz.

Treatment for Binge Eating

Recovery is possible with specialized, evidence-based, care. Eating Recovery At Home, our virtual intensive outpatient program with specialized BED programming, offers a safe and inclusive healing environment to address binge eating and body image. Virtual care offers the added benefit of developing and practicing newly learned skills from the comfort and privacy of home.

Wondering how to stop binge eating? In a small community with others who share similar experiences around food and body image, you will learn and practice a consistent, mindful eating approach while building skills to manage binge eating behaviors. 

What to Expect with Eating Recovery At Home

  • Three 3-hour weekly groups including:
    • Evidence-based skills focused groups (DBT, CBT, ACT, ERP, FBT, EFFT)
    • Process-oriented group therapy
    • Behavior modification group therapy (exposures, behavioral activation)
    • Nutrition groups include meal-time support, cooking classes and group meals to provide structure and accountability
  • One weekly individual or family therapy session
  • One weekly session with a registered dietitian
  • Three weekly family educational groups
  • Recovery Record mobile app tracks food intake, thoughts, emotions and behaviors
  • Remote patient monitoring with numberless scale
  • Continuing education options for all referents
  • Weekly peer, alumni and caregiver support groups

We also work to identify and treat any co-occurring conditions that might be contributing to binge eating, including other forms of disordered eating. Many people with binge eating disorder also live with one or more of the following mental health conditions:

Through our comprehensive binge eating disorder treatment program, we offer hope and understanding that binge eating is treatable. You can gain the freedom you deserve to live a meaningful, fulfilling life.

The Importance of Weight-Inclusive Care

For far too long, people with BED, especially those in larger bodies, have been ushered into weight loss programs that often exacerbate the behavior they were seeking help for in the first place. The intentional restriction of food intake or addition of significant exercise only fuels feelings of shame around food and body image. This is not that experience.

Through re-education about health, weight and nutrition from a weight-inclusive perspective, we work with you to address the causes and impact of binge eating. Our programs teach mindful eating with an “all foods fit” approach and emphasis on body neutrality, helping you break free from food rules and diet mindsets for good.

Facts and Statistics of Binge Eating

In addition to understanding the causes and symptoms of binge eating disorder (BED), it’s also helpful to understand the facts and statistics.

  • 2.2 percent of American adults suffer from binge eating disorder in their lifetime.1
  • Approximately half of the risk for BED is genetic.2
  • Nearly half of BED patients have a comorbid mood disorder.2
  • More than half of BED patients have comorbid anxiety disorders.2
  • Nearly 1 in 10 BED patients have a comorbid substance abuse disorder, most commonly alcohol use.2
  • Binge eating or loss-of-control eating may be as high as 25 percent in post-bariatric patients.3
  1. Deloitte Access Economics. The Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America: A Report for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and the Academy for Eating Disorders. June 2020. Available at:
  2. Ulfvebrand, S., Birgegard, A., Norring, C., Hogdahl, L., & von Hausswolff-Juhlin, Y. (2015). Psychiatric comorbidity in women and men with eating disorders results from a large clinical database. Psychiatry Research, 230(2), 294-299.
  3. Smith, K. E., Orcutt, M., Steffen, K. J., Crosby, R. D., Cao, L., Garcia, L., & Mitchell, J. E. (2019). Loss of control eating and binge eating in the 7 years following bariatric surgery. Obesity Surgery, 29(6), 1773-1780.

Binge Eating Disorder Books

Overcoming Binge Eating, Second Edition: The Proven Program to Learn Why You Binge and How You Can Stop by Christopher G. Fairburn, MD
Find Online | Find at a Library

Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds by Kara Richardson Whitely
Find Online | Find at a Library

Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat How to Break Your Eat repent repeat Cycle by Michelle May, MD
Find Online | Find at a Library

Binge Eating Disorder — The Journey to Recovery and Beyond by Amy Pershing and Chevese Turner
Find Online | Find at a Library

Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Lindo Bacon
Find Online | Find at a Library

Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out--and Never Say Diet Again by Rebecca Scritchfield
Find Online | Find at a Library

Frequently Asked Questions About Binge Eating

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating goes beyond feeling “stuffed” or overeating on occasion, which is part of a normal pattern of eating. With binge eating disorder, binges become a regular occurrence, feel out of control and are followed by emotional distress, shame and embarrassment.

What is considered a binge?

A binge is defined as eating an “abnormally large” amount of food. But the amount of food consumed is less important than the level of distress you experience following a binge. What constitutes a binge is whether it is marked by significant emotional distress.

How do I know if I’m binge eating?

You may binge eat if you regularly eat more than most people would within the same time period, even if you’re not hungry. You may also eat until uncomfortably full. You may feel upset during or after a binge with feelings of guilt, shame, regret or lack of control.

How do I stop my binge?

You can learn how to stop binge eating with evidence-based, trauma informed care. Through Eating Recovery At Home, you’ll join a small community with others who share relatable experiences around food and body image. Together, you’ll learn and practice a mindful eating approach while building skills to manage binge eating behaviors.

What causes people to binge?

There are many biological, psychological and environmental factors that influence the development of eating disorders. 95 percent of patients with binge eating disorder have a family history of binge eating or substance use issues. Additional contributing factors include hormones, mood and anxiety disorders, traumatic experiences, and dieting/weight loss efforts.

What are the warning signs of binge eating disorder?

Warning signs of binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating without feeling hungry
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment or shame
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty after eating

You may also notice extra food wrappers or fast-food receipts or signs of food hoarding.

How common is binge eating disorder?

Around 1.2% of adults in the U.S. have had binge eating disorder in the past year [1]. An estimated 3.5% of women and 2% of men experience binge eating disorder in their lifetime. [2] Worldwide, 1.5% of women and 0.3% of men experience binge eating disorder in their lifetime. [3]

[1] National Institute of Mental Health: Eating Disorders. (Accessed November 8, 2022).

[2] Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H. G., & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3), 348-358.

[3] Keski-Rahkonen, A. (2021). Epidemiology of binge eating disorder: prevalence, course, comorbidity, and risk factors. Current Opinions in Psychiatry, 34(6): 525-531.

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