What is Binge Eating Disorder?

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Binge eating is an eating disorder where a person has a pattern of intentionally and regularly eating large amounts of food to the point of discomfort at least once a week for at least three months. Binges are the rapid consumption of abnormally large amounts of food followed by feelings of distress, remorse, shame, or guilt and no self-control to stop.

Almost everyone occasionally overeats, such as having seconds or thirds at a holiday meal. But for some, binge eating is so much more than that. Binge eating is a coping mechanism that initially serves as a “feel good” release or victory over the situation the person is trying to manage. The behavior becomes a disorder when it negatively impacts the person’s life.

Understanding Binge Eating Disorder

How would someone know if they suffered from binge eating? People with the disorder have episodes where they eat a large amount of food in a short time. They feel like they can’t stop eating or control how much they’re eating. The person also usually feels distressed about binge eating.

Binge eating episodes are associated with:

  • Eating faster than normal
  • Feeling uncomfortably full after eating
  • Eating a large amount of food when not hungry
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment
  • Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed after eating

For a mental health diagnosis, the person experiences binge eating episodes that happen once a week for at least three months. It’s imperative that if you or someone you know are experiencing these symptoms to seek medical help as soon as possible.

The causes of binge eating disorder are unknown. But genetics, biological factors, long-term dieting, and psychological issues increase the risk.

Some symptoms of this eating disorder include:

  • Unexplained disappearance of large amounts of food
  • Many empty cartons and wrappers in the trash
  • Discomfort of eating around others
  • Stealing or hoarding food
  • Being overly concerned with body weight and shape and frequently checking the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
  • Binge eating episodes happen in secret, and the person feels unable to control when they stop eating
  • Saying no anytime they are asked to eat with one or more persons.
  • Embarrassment
  • Feeling guilt, disgust, or depression after eating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Changes in weight
  • Stomach cramps and gastrointestinal issues
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A family history of dieting or binge eating behavior
  • A rocky history of dieting or psychological issues that involved poor body self-image

Associated Health Risks

Binge eating disorder, like many other eating disorders, can harm the body in many ways.

Cardiovascular System

Consuming too many or too few calories can strain the heart. Pulse and blood pressure can be either too low or too high due to eating disorders. Changes in blood pressure can affect how well the heart pumps blood and lead to heart attacks. An electrolyte imbalance can also lead to seizures and/or heart failure.

Gastrointestinal System

Food restriction as a result of an eating disorder like Anorexia Nervosa can lead to a slower than average rate of digestion and bring about symptoms like:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fluctuations of blood sugar
  • Blocked intestines
  • Bacterial infections
  • The feeling of fullness after eating little food

Constipation can also occur, causing poor nutritional intake and weakening the intestines’ muscles, making it harder to rid the body of waste.

Binge eating can also cause the stomach to rupture, a life-threatening condition.


Because the brain consumes about a fifth of the body’s calories, it is essential to eat enough calories to supply it properly. Not getting enough calories can lead to obsessive thoughts about food or difficulty concentrating. Going to bed hungry or too full can also cause sleep difficulties and possibly sleep apnea.

Fainting and dizziness can happen when your body can’t push enough blood into the brain, another result of inadequate nutrition.

Endocrine System

The body uses fat, cholesterol, and calories from food to make hormones. Reducing calories can cause a deficit in various hormones, including sex and thyroid hormones. This deficiency can cause various health issues, including menstrual problems, bone loss, difficulty regulating body temperature, and high cholesterol levels.

Binge eating can also cause insulin resistance over time, leading to the development of Type 2 Diabetes.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that could increase the likelihood that a person will develop a particular condition, and there are many risk factors for binge eating disorder.

Risk factors include:

  • Having a parent or sibling with an eating disorder
  • Having a close relative with a mental health issue like depression
  • A history of dieting
  • Burning more calories than you take in
  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • Weight stigma and being bullied about your weight
  • Buying into the message of an “ideal” body
  • Lack of a social support system
  • Perfectionism
  • Being dissatisfied with your body image
  • Having an anxiety disorder
  • Behavioral inflexibility (always following the rules and doing things the “right way”)

Treatment Options

Treating an eating disorder involves psychological counseling and nutritional education.

Treatment comes in various levels and is dependent upon client stability. Treatment can be in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Outpatient or intensive outpatient settings are for clients who are the least vulnerable. Outpatient care allows clients plenty of access to care without disrupting their daily lives. Clients will likely join a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) if more care is needed. PHPs allow clients to spend most of their day in a treatment setting, but clients can return home in the evening. Clients who require the most care will participate in residential or inpatient programs that provide 24/7 care.

Treatment for an eating disorder will address symptoms, medical consequences, and all factors that contribute to or maintain the eating disorder. Typically treatment will be provided by a treatment team and consist of psychotherapy and nutrition counseling while also addressing any co-occurring mental health or medical issues related to the eating disorder. A treatment team may include a physician, therapist, dietician, psychiatrist, and case manager. These professionals work together to help achieve goals and recover.

Various modalities are useful in treating binge eating disorder.

Types of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – CBT is typically a short-term, solution-focused therapy that addresses faulty thinking and distorted beliefs. This therapy type can help a client develop new, healthier thoughts about their body, shape, weight, and appearance.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy – DBT’s core tenet is radical acceptance, which encourages the client to accept themselves without judgment. Clients learn specific skills in distress tolerance, emotion regulation, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness.
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy – IPT was developed specifically to treat bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. IPT considers the social and interpersonal context of the eating disorder and uses specific tasks and strategies to resolve the interpersonal problem areas such as grief, interpersonal role disputes, interpersonal deficits, and role transitions. As a reduction in eating disorder symptoms occurs, relationships and communication improve.

Let All Counseling Help

Binge eating disorder has similar characteristics as other eating disorders, like bulimia. While there is no purging involved, treating a binge eating illness is critical. Eating disorders can have a profound and negative impact on your life and health. All Counseling’s therapist directory can help you find a therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders.