Binge Eating Disorder

Symptoms - Causes - Treatment - Myths - Seek a Therapist

How is Binge Eating Disorder Defined?

"An eating disorder in which people compulsively overeat either continuously or on discrete binges but do not behave in ways to compensate for the over eating" (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

It's important to remember that binge eating resembles bulimia nervosa, without engaging in purging, fasting, or excessive exercise as a way to compensate for the binge (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

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According to the DSM-5 criteria, in order for someone to be considered for binge-eating disorder they must display three or more of the following symptoms at least once a week for three months (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014):
  • Eating much more rapidly than normal.
  • Eating until uncomfortably full.
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.

The above symptoms associate with recurrent episodes of binge eating which are characterized by both of the following (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014):

  • Eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
  • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode. This can be the inability to stop eating when full.

Possible Causes

Research is still being conducted to fully understand the causes of binge eating disorder. So far, research has been able to link certain triggers to a binge episode: depression, anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety, and other negative emotions (WebMD, 2012). These triggers are emotional regulation factors. Individuals with more of a depressive sub-type will experience more intense difficulties with social and psychological consequences leading to stronger symptoms of binge eating (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

Researchers have also found that binge eating runs in families in relation to genetics and cultural aspects. Culturally, it may be practiced to eat excessive large meals (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). also, some cultures have it in the "norm" to binge eat as an emotional response to a negative situation. The cultural aspects are less severe and in most cases easier to treat.

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Treatment Options

Treatment will vary from person to person based on the severity of the binge eating disorder, as well as particular problems, needs, and strengths. What had been found to be the most effective form of treatment is psychotherapy and/or psychological counseling. These both will focus on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help the individual monitor how they cognitively connect to over-eating before, during, and after the binge (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). Following this, the therapist will work with the individual on confronting these thoughts to help them reduce their over-concern with weight, shape, and eating (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). While studies show that CBT is a more effective option than antidepressant medication, they can still be used effectively (Girlo, Masheb, & Crosby, 2012).

Since binge eating is many times a response to down emotional states and stress, antidepressants will "lift" the individual, reducing the chances of binge eating. What these drugs may fail to do is restore the individual to normal eating habits and reduce concerns about weight and body shape (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). This means that if medication is used in the treatment process, it must be used alongside CBT, as the behavioral portion involves nutritional counseling and teaches the individual how to monitor food intake and choose healthier foods while the cognitive portion helps the individual to have a better outlook on body shape and weight (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). In many cases, the family is unaware for the individuals fight with binge eating, so it's important to get the family involved to provide extra support to help resist binge eating at home. Group therapy can help the individual express how they feel about the disorder and share their experiences, with that, they will also be able to hear what other have to say about the disorder. Building a support group and having people one can turn to is a very important part of a successful treatment plan.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Medication
  • Nutritional Counseling
  • Group/family therapy

Common Myths

There are too many myths about binge eating disorder that need to be acknowledged (Kramer & Cohn, 2013):

  1. All binge eaters are obese
  2. Binge eaters have no will power
  3. Binge eating is not a real eating disorder
  4. Binge eaters just need to exercise some discipline and go on a diet
  5. Weight loss surgery can cure binge eating disorder
  6. Only women binge
  7. Binge eaters are always hungry
  8. Only adults are binge eaters
  9. Medical doctors are the go-to experts for binge eating
  10. After you’re diagnosed with binge eating disorder, you’ll always have it

These are labeled myths for a reason. overcoming these is one of the first steps in a treatment process. The mind is a very powerful thing, if you let it believe any of the above, you will be hurting your ability to conquer the disorder. You must believe in yourself, maintain hope, and know that you are strong enough.

How to Find The Right Therapist For You

Finding a therapist can seem like a difficult task. To make it simple, you can make an appointment with your physician who can then refer you to specialists in your area, or an area of your selection. If not, you can search online for professionals that have specialized in eating disorders. To achieve best possible results of treatment, you will have a treatment team. This will consist of a couple of the following: psychotherapist, nutritionist/dietitian, physician, or psychiatrist.

In building your treatment team, it is important to conduct interviews in order to find someone fit for you. has listed questions to ask and answers that should be expected (but don't have to) during these interviews.

  • Have you had specialized training specifically in eating disorders? What kind of training? How long?
  • Have you ever trained or worked in a hospital eating disorders program? Where? How long?
  • Do you have any credentials showing you are an eating disorder specialist? What are they? Through what certifying organization? (note: CEDS and FAED are highest regarded credentials)
  • Do you currently have a supervisor who is an eating disorders specialist? Who is it?
  • What professional eating disorder associations are you a member of? NOTE: The major associations are: Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) and National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)
  • What eating disorder journals do you read? NOTE: The major journals and newsletters are: International Journal of Eating Disorders, Journal of the Treatment and Prevention of Eating Disorders, Renfrew Perspectives, IAEDP Connections, Eating Disorders Review, Health At Every Size
  • What continuing education have you received or taught on eating disorders in the past two years? NOTE: Therapists should attend seminars or conventions or engage in self-study for continuing education credits to continue their professional development on a regular basis.

Additional Resources

Binge Eating Disorder Association

For more information and to find help and support, please visit:

If you are still unsure if you may have a binge eating disorder, there is a short quiz (which does not solidify that you have the disorder) to help give reach and understanding of where you stand:


Binge Eating Disorder: Treatments, Signs, and Causes. (2012, January 1). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from

Grilo, C. M., Masheb, R. M., & Crosby, R. D. (2012). Predictors and moderators of response to cognitive behavioral therapy and medication for the treatment of binge eating disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80(5), 897-906.

Kramer, J., Cohn M. N. (2013).. 10 Myths about Binge Eating Disorder. (n.d.). Overcoming Binge Eating For Dummies. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from

Mental Fitness, Inc. (2014). How can I find a therapist who specializes in eating disorders? –Eating Disorder Treatment. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from

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