What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

By: Jayson Tripp, MD


Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder  characterized by the inability to control eating. Binge eating disorder is actually the most common eating disorder in the United States. There are an estimated 2.8 million people  who struggle with this condition.  

Binge eating can disrupt a person’s life and cause serious health risks. In this blog, we will discuss the causes of BED, treatment options, and how to support a loved one who may be experiencing this condition.  

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

As was stated, binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder associated with overeating. People with binge eating disorder usually eat large quantities of food in a certain amount of time. They will also usually eat very fast, eat until they feel uncomfortably full, eat even when they aren’t hungry, eat alone out of embarrassment, and feel guilty after binge eating.  

Signs and Symptoms of BED 

If you believe someone is suffering from binge eating disorder, it is important to encourage them to get help. Here are some signs that may help you determine if someone has binge eating disorder. 

  • Appearing uncomfortable eating around others or in public 
  • The disappearance of large amounts of food in short amounts of time 
  • Stealing or hoarding food 
  • Developing new practices with food such as following fad diets or cutting out food groups 
  • Creating a schedule in order to make time to binge eat 
  • Shows extreme concern with body image 
  • Frequently checking the mirror to look for flaws 
  • Fluctuations in weight 
  • Feelings of guilt, depression, or disgust after overeating 
  • Feelings of low self-esteem 
  • Feels lack of control over the ability to stop eating 

If you notice someone partaking in these activities, please talk to them about seeking help. 

What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?

BED usually begins in late teens or early twenties. The exact cause of binge eating disorder isn’t clear, but there are many factors that can increase someone’s risk of developing this condition. 

Biological Factors 

There are a few different biological factors associated with BED. Researchers believe that there’s a link between hormone irregularities and binge-eating disorder . Studies also show that there could be a genetic mutation specific to food addiction.  

Of course, we learned in our last blog on Anorexia  that eating disorders also occur in families, meaning someone is more likely to develop an eating disorder if they have a family member who also struggles with food.  

Psychological or Emotional Factors 

Low self-esteem and poor body image are commonly associated with binge eating disorder, well as a history of depression, anxiety, and/or ADHD. In fact, a study from the Journal of Psychiatric Research reports that there’s a link between low levels of serotonin and binge eating behavior. So it’s no wonder binge eating disorder often goes hand-in-hand with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.  

Binge eating is also regularly practiced by people who have difficulty dealing with stress and use overeating as a coping mechanism. Like people who use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress or negative feelings, people with binge eating disorder use food.  

Environmental Factors 

Trauma, such as domestic or sexual abuse can lead to the development of BED, as can bullying and body-shaming. Enduring any of these situations often lead to low self-worth. Another factor that contributes to low self-worth is the societal pressure to be thin.  

When people, especially women, see unrealistic portrayals of women in the media and online, they begin to feel inadequate, leading to an increased risk of developing binge eating disorder.  

What Are the Health Risks of Binge Eating Disorder?

Someone who is suffering through binge eating disorder can experience side effects and health risks associated with overeating, including: 

  • High blood pressure 
  • High cholesterol 
  • Type II diabetes 
  • Heart disease 
  • Weight gain or obesity 

BED also usually occurs along with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety.   

What Are the Treatment Options for Binge Eating Disorder?

There are many options for treating binge eating disorder, including the following.  


BED is often treated with antidepressants, perhaps because many people with this condition also struggle with depression or anxiety, and when mood improves, so does binge eating behavior. Another medication that may be used to treat binge eating disorder is Topamax, which is an anticonvulsant but is also effective for reducing binge-eating episodes.  


Ketamine is an anesthetic that is also successful at treating mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Ketamine treatment  actually repairs neuropathways in the brain, rapidly reducing even the most severe symptoms of depression and anxiety. Because BED is associated with depression and other mental health conditions, ketamine may help reduce binge eating behavior by improving a patient’s mood.  

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)  

TMS therapy is a non-i nvasive procedure in which repetitive magnetic waves are used to stimulate the brain. A study on TMS for binge eating disorder and bulimia shows that nearly half the TMS patients  saw a 50% drop in the behavior, a third of the patients saw an 80% drop in the behavior, and in some cases, the behavior disappeared completely.  

TMS is also a successful treatment for depression, especially treatment-resistant depression, which could be another reason why it is so effective for eating disorders like binge-eating disorder and bulimia.  


There are a few different types of therapy that may be effective for someone with binge eating disorder, including: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) — CBT is a type of therapy that can help normalize eating patterns and identify unhealthy, negative behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones.  
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy — This type of therapy focuses on relationships with others. It can improve your interpersonal skills, which can reduce binge eating caused by problematic relationships or unhealthy communication.  
  • Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT) — DBT is a type of therapy that helps someone learn new behavioral skills to help tolerate stress, regulating emotions, and improving relationships with others. 

People with BED may also benefit from participating in weight-loss programs, in which they work with a nutritionist to help them develop better eating habits. 

How Can I Support a Loved One With Binge Eating Disorder?

When talking to someone who has BED, you need to choose carefully what you say so that you don’t trigger or shame them. Some encouraging things to say, include:  

  • “I care about you” — It is very comforting for someone to hear that even though they are struggling, someone is still on their side. This is the first step in helping someone recognize that they need help.  
  • “I won’t share what you told me without your permission” — This lets the person struggling know that they can confide in you without worrying you’ll tell others. This can be vital in showing your loved one that they can open up to you. 
  • “I’m here for you” — Telling someone you’re there for them or that you support them is very important in showing them that they have a friend in you. 
  • “I want you to be okay” — This lets your loved one know that you want them to get better and reinforces the idea that you care about them, which will make them want to seek out treatment. 
  • “I won’t judge you” — Someone who is suffering from binge eating disorder feels guilty and ashamed of their behavior. So hearing that you don’t judge them may help them to open up. 

Some things to avoid when talking to a loved one with BED is making comments about their weight and making comments about what they are eating. A common sign of binge eating disorder is frequently complaining about weight and frequently dieting without success. You may think you’re encouraging them to stick with their diet when you make comments about the food they’re eating, but those comments can actually be triggering.  

The most important thing is to be considerate of your loved one’s feelings. They are feeling a lot of guilt and worthlessness, so be positive and let them know how important they are to you. Also, keep in mind that someone who has BED may not be ready to talk right away, so be patient with them and listen when they are ready.  

If you or a loved one are suffering from binge eating disorder, know that you are not alone, and you have a lot of treatment options available. If you’re ready to seek help, contact us at Serenity Mental Health Centers to find a treatment plan that is right for you. 

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*All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.