Binge Eating Disorder

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is among the most common eating disorder in the United States (BEDA, 2014). Binge eating disorder is compulsive overeating in which people consume huge amounts of food while feeling powerless to stop (Smith, et al., 2014). This disorder is generally characterized by recurring episodes of binge eating, feeling out of control while binging, and feeling guilt and shame afterwards (BEDA, 2014). Binge-eating disorder is typically applied to individuals who regularly binge yet do not purge what they eat (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). People with this disorder tend to eat continuously throughout their day with no planned mealtimes (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). Some engage in discrete binges of very large amounts of food which are often in response to stress and feelings of anxiety or depression (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). The individual tends to eat very rapidly and sometimes appears as if they are in a daze as they eat (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). The individual experiences a lack of control over eating during a binge episode, which lasts for at least 2 hours, and eats until feeling uncomfortably full (BEDA, 2014). People with this disorder often encounter feelings of disgust, depression, shame, or guilt after overeating (BEDA, 2014).

Symptoms and Signs of having Binge Eating Disorder


There are many symptoms that a person experiences with binge eating disorder. People with binge eating disorder are often embarrassed and ashamed of their eating habits and try to hide their symptoms by eating in secret (Smith, et al., 2014). Usually binge eatings are overweight or obese but there are some people that are of normal weight (Smith, et al., 2014). Some behavioral symptoms of binge eating include the inability to stop eating, rapidly eating large amounts of food, eating when full, or hiding food to eat later in secret (Smith, et al., 2014). In addition, the individual would eat normally around others but gorge when alone and eat continuously throughout the day (Smith, et al., 2014). Some emotional symptoms of this disorder include feeling stress or tension that is only relieved by eating, embarrassment over how much is eaten, feeling number while bingeing as if the individual is on auto-pilot, and never feeling satisfied no matter how much food is consumed (Smith, et al., 2014).


If a person answers "yes" to most, if not all, of the following questions, it is vert likely that they have a binge eating disorder (Smith, et al., 2014).

  • Do you feel out of control when eating?
  • Do you think about food all the time?
  • Do you eat in secret?
  • Do you eat until you feel sick?
  • Do you eat to escape from worries, relieve stress, or to comfort yourself?
  • Do you feel disgusted or ashamed after eating?
  • Do you feel powerless to stop eating, even though you want to?

Causes of Binge Eating

Binge eating is usually caused by a combination of factors. A biological cause of this disorder is a biological abnormality that can contribute (Smith, et al., 2014). The hypothalamus may not be sending correct signals about hunger and fullness in the body (Smith, et al., 2014). Studies have also suggested that there is a genetic mutation that tends to cause food addiction (Smith, et al., 2014). There is also evidence that low levels of the brain chemical serotonin plays a role in compulsive eating (Smith, et al., 2014). In addition to biological factors, there are many social ad cultural causes as well. Social pressure to be thin can add to the shame that binge eaters feel and fuel their emotional eating (Smith, et al., 2014). Also, children who are exposed to frequent criticism about their weight are very vulnerable and overeat as a result (Smith, et al., 2014). Finally, psychological causes such as depression is strongly linked to binge eating disorder (Smith, et al., 2014). Low self-esteem, loneliness, and body dissatisfaction can also contribute to binge eating (Smith, et al., 2014).

Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

It is recommended to seek help from psychiatrists, nutritionists, therapists, or eating disorder and obesity specialists so that the proper treatment plan can be composed. An effective treatment plan for binge eating disorder involves addressing more than just symptoms and destructive eating habits but also the root causes of the problem and the emotional triggers that led to the binge eating (Smith, et al., 2014). It is also important to address the individual's difficulty with the coping of stress, anxiety, fear, and sadness (Smith, et al., 2014). One method of treatment would be the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on the dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors that are involved with binge eating (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). It is important for the person to become more self-aware of how he/she uses food to deal with emotions (Smith, et al., 2014). This method of treatment also involves education about nutrition, healthy weight loss, and relaxation techniques (Smith, et al., 2014). Another type of therapy is interpersonal psychotherapy. This focuses on the relationship problems and interpersonal issues that a person experiences that may contribute to compulsive eating (Smith, et al., 2014). The therapist will be able to help the individual improve communication skills and develop a healthier relationship with family and friends (Smith, et al., 2014). Overcoming this disorder can be very difficult and having the right support system plays a crucial role as well. It may be beneficial to engage in group therapy and be a part of support groups (Smith, et al., 2014).

The Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), offers many resources on where to seek treatment in addition to a list of BEDA providers. Please visit if you or a loved one suffers from Binge Eating Disorder.

Myths about Binge Eating

  • Binge Eating is simply a bad habit or evidence of poor self-control in an individual. This myth is invalid. Binge eaters hide their out-of-control eating because they fear what others will say about them (Gold, 2012).
  • Binge eating is not a real disorder. Binge eating is a real disorder that is listed in the DSM-5 as a mental disorder.
  • Binge eaters have no willpower. Many binge eaters happen to be very successful people with plenty of drive and determination. There is evidence that binge eating activates specific regions of the brain in much the same way that using cocaine lights up specific regions in substance abusers (Gold, 2012).
  • Binge eaters should just go on diets. Dieting does not "cure" binge eating disorder. In fact, research has shown that calorie-restriction dierts can actually trigger binges, even in people who do not have binge eating disorder (Gold, 2012).
  • Surgery is the key to recovery. Gastric bypass and other forms of surgery can sometimes eliminate diabetes and other physical problems a person encounters but it does not eliminate the psychological disorder that causes people to binge eat (Gold, 2012).

Diana Mazer

Baker College


BEDA. (2014). Home | Binge Eating Disorder Association. Binge Eating Disorder Association. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from

Gold, S. (2012). Myths about Binge Eating. CBSNews. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2014). Abnormal Psychology (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Smith, M., Segal, R., & Segal, J. (2014). Binge Eating Disorder. : Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Help. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from