Binge Eating Disorder

When donuts, chips and burgers are staring you right in the face, sometimes you just have to dig in. After all, everyone indulges on their favorite foods now and then, overeating until their stomachs feel completely stuffed. However, when overeating is out of a person’s control, binge eating disorder (BED) might be to blame. About 2 percent, or nearly 4 million, of all adults in the U.S. have binge eating disorder, with the disorder affecting women slightly more often than men.[1]

Definition of Bing Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is a type of eating disorder characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures, such as exercise or purging as someone with bulimia or anorexia might do, to counter the binge eating.[2,3]

Signs & Symptoms of Binge Eating

Someone with BED might eat when she isn’t hungry and continue eating even long after she’s uncomfortably full. After a binge, the person may feel guilty or ashamed, which can trigger a new round of binging. A person who binge eats may be a normal weight, overweight or obese.[2] Episodes of binge eating are associated with three or more of the following:[4]

  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating alone to avoid embarrassment of amount of food eaten
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty after overeating

Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

While it is unclear exactly what causes binge eating disorder, researchers are looking at the following possible factors:[1]

Biology. Since binge eating disorder often occurs in several members of the same family, genes may play a part. Research is being done on how the brain chemicals and metabolism affect binge eating disorder. Neuroimaging (pictures of the brain) may also lead to a better understanding of the disorder.

Depression. As many as half of all people with binge eating disorder are depressed or have been depressed in their lifetime.

Coping skills and emotional problems. Studies show that many people who are binge eaters say that being angry, sad, bored, worried or stressed can cause them to binge eat. Certain behaviors and emotional problems such as abusing alcohol, impulsive behavior, not feeling in charge of themselves, and not feeling a part of their communities are more common in people with binge eating disorder.

Dieting. Some people binge after skipping meals, not eating enough food each day or avoiding certain kinds of food.

Effects of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder often results in many of the same health risks associated with clinical obesity, including the following:[4,5]

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Heart disease as a result of elevated triglyceride levels
  • Type II diabetes mellitus
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Heart disease
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep apnea

Treatments for Binge Eating Disorder

A combination of nutritional advice, psychotherapy (especially cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on the important role of thinking in how we feel and what we do) and medication, such as antidepressants and appetite suppressants might be used to help treat a person with binge eating disorder. Hospitalization is sometimes needed to treat problems caused by malnutrition or to ensure a person eats enough if they are very underweight.[1]


  1. Binge eating disorder fact sheet. Retrieved February 19, 2013, from
  2. Mayo Clinic. Eating disorders Symptoms. Retrieved February 19, 2013, from
  3. The National Eating Disorders Association. Bing eating disorder. Retrieved February 19, 2013, from
  4. Binge Eating Disorder Association. About Bing Eating Disorder. Retrieved February 19, 2013, from
  5. The National Eating Disorders Association. Get The Facts On Eating Disorders. Retrieved February 19, 2013, from

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

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