Binge Eating Disorder: Symptoms, Causes & treatment

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

what are binge eating disorder symptoms?

A person might feel a sense of release or relief during a binge but experience feelings of shame or loss of control afterward (12Trusted Source).

For a healthcare professional to diagnose BED, three or more of the following symptoms must be present:

  • eating much more rapidly than normal
  • eating until uncomfortably full
  • eating large amounts without feeling hungry
  • eating alone due to feelings of embarrassment and shame
  • feelings of guilt or disgust with oneself

People with BED often experience feelings of extreme unhappiness and distress about their overeating, body shape, and weight

Causes and effects

Generally, it takes a combination of things to develop binge eating disorder—including your genes, emotions, and experience.

Social and cultural risk factors. Social pressure to be thin can add to the you feel and fuel your emotional eating. Some parents unwittingly set the stage for binge eating by using food to comfort, dismiss, or reward their children. Children who are exposed to frequent critical comments about their bodies and weight are also vulnerable, as are those who have been sexually abused in childhood.

Psychological risk factors. Depression and binge eating are strongly linked. Many binge eaters are either depressed or have been before; others may have trouble with impulse control and managing and expressing their feelings. Low self-esteem, loneliness, and body dissatisfaction may also contribute to binge eating.

Biological risk factors. Biological abnormalities can contribute to binge eating. For example, the hypothalamus (the part of your brain that controls appetite) may not be sending correct messages about hunger and fullness. Researchers have also found a genetic mutation that appears to cause food addiction. Finally, there is evidence that low levels of the brain chemical serotonin play a role in compulsive eating.

Effects of binge eating disorder

Binge eating leads to a wide variety of physical, emotional, and social problems. You’re more likely to suffer health issues, stress, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts than someone without an eating disorder. You may also experience depression, anxiety, and substance abuse as well as substantial weight gain.

As bleak as this sounds, though, many people are able to recover from binge eating disorder and reverse the unhealthy effects. You can, too. The first step is to re-evaluate your relationship with food.

What are the treatment options?

The treatment plan for BED depends on the causes and severity of the eating disorder, as well as individual goals.

Treatment may target binge eating behaviors, excess weight, body image, mental health issues, or a combination of these.

Therapy options include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, dialectical behavior therapy, weight loss therapy, and medication. These may be carried out on a one-to-one basis, in a group setting, or in a self-help format.

In some people, just one type of therapy may be required, while others may need to try different combinations until they find the right fit.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on identifying the negative feelings and behaviors that cause binge eating and helps put strategies in place to improve them. It is the most effective treatment for BED and may be done with a therapist or in a self-help format.

Interpersonal psychotherapy

Interpersonal psychotherapy views binge eating as a coping mechanism for underlying personal problems. It addresses binge eating behaviors by acknowledging and treating those underlying problems. It is a successful therapy, particularly for severe cases.

Dialectical behavior therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy sees binge eating as a response to negative experiences in daily life. It uses techniques like mindfulness and the regulation of emotions to help people cope better and stop binging. It is unclear if it is effective in the long term.

Weight loss therapy

Weight loss therapy Weight loss therapy aims to improve binge eating symptoms by reducing weight in hopes that this will improve body image. It is not as successful as CBT or interpersonal therapy, but it may be useful for some individuals.


Medications may help improve binge eating in the short term. However, long-term studies are needed. Medications are generally not as effective as behavioral therapies and can have side effects.

Binge Eating Disorder can have negative effects on overall health, body weight, self-esteem, and mental health.
Fortunately, very effective treatments are available for BED, including CBT and IPT. There are also many healthy lifestyle strategies that can be incorporated into everyday life.
The first step in overcoming BED is to ask for help from a medical professional.

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