Binge Eating Disorder – The Basics



Overview and Symptoms

Binge eating disorder is one of the lesser known eating disorders, however, it’s just as harmful and life threatening as any other. Binge eating disorder, also known as BED, involves an individual eating an unnecessarily large quantity of food very quickly, regularly, and to the point of pain or discomfort. Despite popular belief, overweight or obese individuals usually are not inflicted with BED. In fact, many patients who have been diagnosed with binge eating disorder are of normal weight. Binge eating is regarded as a mental illness, a combination of emotional, psychosocial, biological, and environmental factors. This is to be differentiated from food addiction which is the inability to stop eating certain foods and a loss of control over the ability to stop eating, which can be addressed by institutions or professionals providing help with addiction.

People commonly misperceive that individuals with eating disorders are “vain” or that eating disorders are all about wanting to look thin like models in the magazines. However, the reality is that eating disorders are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. — Jennifer Rollin MSW, LCSW-C

Here are some of the typical symptoms of BED:

  • eating large quantities of food in a short amount of time
  • eating quickly
  • hoarding food
  • feeling guilty or depressed
  • feeling out of control
  • eating when already full
  • eating to the point of discomfort

If you suspect that you or someone you care about has binge eating disorder, watch for these symptoms.

Risk Factors

Risk factors of BED are quite similar to those of other eating disorders, with the exception of some situational circumstances. There are some triggers and situations that can cause an individual to go into a bingeing episode that is unique to the patient. Here are some common risk factors of binge eating disorder that can increase someone’s likelihood of having BED in their lifetime:

  • a family history of binge eating disorder
  • mental illness in the individual or in family members
  • stressful situations and/or lifestyle
  • extreme or unnecessary dieting (can trigger bingeing from too much restriction in their diet)
  • a trouble with impulse and self-control
  • issues with coping mechanisms

Many people who don’t “look like they have an eating disorder” based on their weight, gender, or skin color are not identified as having an eating disorder by medical professionals. — Alexis Conason Psy.D.

Consequences and Issues



Binge eating has quite a lot of physical, emotional, and mental ramifications. BED can cause quite a lot of issues in a patient’s everyday life, including:

  • decreased happiness
  • discontent with the overall quality of life
  • isolating yourself to avoid judgment
  • becoming overweight
  • developing medical complications

Mental Illness and BED

Binge eating disorder has a bit of correlation with mental illness. Mental illnesses can either cause or become a product of BED. The most common mental illnesses that co-occur with binge eating disorder are depression (and other mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder), anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. BED can be developed as a result of one of these disorders in an attempt to cope. Patients use food as a tool to try and get rid of emotional numbness that they feel or to try and replace the negative emotions that they have.

The most common mental illness that is caused by binge eating disorder is depression. This is because an individual is typically overcome with feelings of guilt, sadness, and disgust once a binge episode is over. Anxiety is also common in patients with BED, as there is often fixation and immense worrying involved. Individuals with binge eating disorders recognize that their eating practices are wrong, and they often worry about their habits. This is why it’s important to try and alter these habits as soon as possible before further issues are developed.

Sometimes attitudes and behaviors emerge in response to the overwhelming despair and hopelessness that accompanies watching a loved one starving herself/himself. — Judy Scheel Ph.D., L.C.S.W., CEDS




There are many different treatment plans available for those diagnosed with binge eating disorder. There are treatment centers, psychologists, medications, nutritional counselors, psychiatrists, and therapy. Usually, it is recommended that each patient creates their own treatment plan that accommodates their specific needs. For example, someone with binge eating disorder, depression, anxiety, and obesity can create their own treatment plan that would work to combat all of the different components.

The most common therapies used to treat binge eating disorder (and sometimes other mental illnesses accompanying) are cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, typically involves replacing binge eating with more successful, healthier coping mechanisms. It also focuses on identifying what kinds of situations cause the particular patient to feel the need to binge and gives the individual new ways to deal with it. Interpersonal psychotherapy is usually helpful for those who find that their BED is linked to unhealthy relationships. It aids patients in figuring out how to create healthier relationships so that their binging episodes decrease.