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What is Binge Eating Disorder?

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

Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

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

Genetic Links

A number of factors explain why binge eating disorder may be more likely to occur within certain families:

  • Approximately 95 percent of patients with BED had a parent with BED or substance abuse issues
  • There are neurobiological components to loss-of-control eating behaviors
  • A complex set of hormones influences and determines hunger and satiety cues as well as how we feel, think and behave around food

Psychological Links

Psychological factors can also prime an individual to binge eat. Those most likely to struggle with BED tend to have the following traits:

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

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

Cultural and Societal Issues

The larger cultural narrative around dieting, binge eating and obesity is a prominent sociocultural factor influencing the development of binge eating disorder.

  • Dieting and weight loss have become synonymous with “healthy living
  • Cultural messages suggest that we have total control over our eating and weight
  • Others claim that willpower drives normal eating, weight loss and overall health

This rhetoric fosters shame and embarrassment for individuals struggling with BED, many of whom are chronic dieters without weight loss success.

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 of the following behaviors.

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 is a real eating disorder. Not only that, but BED is the most common eating disorder. Thankfully, it is also is a treatable mental health condition.

Some people spend decades frustrated at their lack of ability to stop bingeing. And the health risks associated with binge eating disorder (BED) are very real:

  • Weight gain/obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Type II diabetes mellitus
  • Emotional and mental distress

Most of the physical consequences of binge eating disorder listed above can be reversed through diet and exercise. However, if you do not get help for the emotional issues related to binge eating, issues related to body image, or your relationship with food, you may continue to struggle for a very long time.

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

You can recover from binge eating disorder — with the right help! The specialized binge eating disorder treatment team at Eating Recovery Center works closely with diverse individuals to understand how each person has unique biological, psychological and social factors that contribute to their illness.

How Does Binge Eating Treatment Work?

In order to stop disordered eating, we must intervene at a behavioral level. This means that we will address eating disorder behaviors in treatment. Another important area to address is that your treatment team will seek to understand any emotional or psychological issues that may be contributing to your disordered eating behavior.

In addition to addressing behavioral and psychological contributors to the illness, it is important to identify and treat any co-occurring illnesses you may have. Many people who struggle with binge eating have one or more concerns aside from the eating disorder, including:

Through our comprehensive binge eating disorder treatment program, we seek to normalize eating patterns, stabilize medical comorbidities and improve quality of life issues. 

This is our Approach to Stopping Binge Eating

Higher-weight individuals with binge eating disorder often tell us that they want to admit to a program with a clear “weight-loss strategy;” they say they are looking for programs that have weight loss as a goal.

Our internationally-recognized binge eating disorder treatment experts believe that the more effective way to help patients struggling with BED is by focusing first on remedying the disordered eating, finding solutions to the overeating, and addressing any underlying issues. Through this approach, weight loss may occur.

The Eating Recovery Center is the nation's only health care system dedicated to the treatment of binge eating disorders at all levels of care. The binge eating treatment center includes inpatient treatment, residential treatment, partial hospitalization treatment and intensive outpatient treatment.

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.
  • 8 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, usually alcohol use. 2
  • Binge eating or loss-of-control eating may be as high as 25 percent in post-bariatric patients. 3
  • 30 percent of higher weight patients attempting to lose weight in clinical settings meet diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder (BED) and/or bulimia nervosa (BN). 4
  1. 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.
  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. Berkman ND, Brownley KA, Peat CM, Lohr KN, Cullen KE, Morgan LC, Bann CM, Wallace IF, Bulik CM. Management and Outcomes of Binge-Eating Disorder. Comparative Effectiveness Review No. 160.

Binge Eating Disorder Resources

From personal recovery stories to clinical research and data, we’ve gathered top resources for Binge Eating Disorder below.

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
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Sick Enough by Jennifer L. Gaudiani, MD, CEDS, FAED
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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
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Frequently Asked Questions About Binge Eating

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

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

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