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Binge Eating Disorders - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment.

Published on Sep 14, 2022 and last reviewed on Nov 14, 2022   -  7 min read


Binge eating is a disorder where the quantity and frequency of eating are increased. Read below to know the symptoms, causes, and treatment of the disorder.

What Are Binge Eating Disorders?

Binge eating is consuming unusually large portions of meals with increased frequency and urges that make it difficult for a person to stop eating. It affects 2% of the population worldwide. Binge eating is a habit that develops over a period when a person feels forced and cannot resist the desire to eat continuously. This disorder often becomes the root of many serious health problems as patient tends to be obese.

Binge eating disorders are feeding and eating disorders that are now considered a diagnosis in medicine. You might wonder if eating healthy is considered a disorder. Every one of us has heard our moms telling us “ have some more food; you do not eat well”. Eating a lot should make every mom happy and everybody healthy, but binge eating is not just about the food one consumes, it involves much deeper connections with mood, anxiety, and depression that compels a person to use food as a medium of distraction. This leads to more severe, chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Thus it is considered a psychiatric disorder. This article highlights symptoms, causes, and health risks when seeking help for the prevention of risks and treatments available.

What Are the Symptoms of Binge Eating?

Binge eating is a disorder where a person consumes large amounts of food in a short period without hunger. This can make a person feel better for a while but might experience guilt after the episode. This disorder usually develops in the late teenage and if left untreated can last for years. Unlike other eating disorders, binge eating is most common amongst the male population.

Following are the symptoms that help a healthcare professional to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Eating faster and larger portions than normal in a short period.

  • Overeating even when not hungry, till excessively full.

  • Eating alone due to embarrassment.

  • Feeling of guilt and shame after eating.

  • Dieting frequently without weight loss.

This disorder can be mild, which is one to three episodes per week, to severe, including 14 or more episodes a week. To revert to excessive eating, a person does not vomit or over-exercise, nor consumes any laxatives.

What Are the Causes of Binge Eating?

The causes of binge eating are not exactly known, but it is most likely due to various risk factors, which are as follows.


People with binge eating habits have increased sensitivity to a chemical in the brain called Dopamine which is a neurotransmitter and functions as a reward center.

It is also stated that binge eating is most likely to be seen in people who have a family history of the same. I.e hereditary.

Psychological Issues:

People who binge eat report having some other psychological issues, whether childhood trauma due to abuse or phobias due to separation from a family member. These people often have a medical history of psychological disorders like depression, bipolar disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Binge eating is often seen in people who had similar habits in the past at some stages of their life. It can be triggered by various factors like stress, dieting, negative feelings relating to body weight or body shape, and the availability of food.

How Is Binge Eating Disorder Diagnosed?

Occasional overeating cannot be termed as BED, though the person might show some of the above symptoms.

The typical onset of BED is in the late teens to early twenties, although it can occur at any age. People usually need guidance to develop a healthy relationship with food. BED can last for many years if left untreated and undiagnosed. Diagnosis of the disorder is confirmed when a person has at least one binge eating episode per week for at least three months, as mentioned above. The severity ranges from mild to severe.

What Are the Health Risks?

BED is associated with physical, emotional, and social health risks.

People who overeat during binge episodes are most likely to be obese due to increased calorie intake during the eating episodes. And obesity is the root cause of many life-threatening disorders like diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, etc.

  • Research states that people with BED are at a higher risk of developing health issues when compared with obese individuals of the same weight.

  • Women with BED are at a higher risk of fertility problems, pregnancy complications, and the development of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

  • People with this disorder often lack confidence due to weight and body appearance and thus are reluctant to interact socially. Therefore these people feel lonely and are most likely to develop depression.

Although binging has several significant health risks, there are several effective treatments available.

What Are the Treatment Options?

The treatment for BED aims to find the causes and treat the disorder depending on the severity.

Various Therapies That Help in Curing Binge Eating Are:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT).

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

  • Weight loss therapy and medication.

These treatment modalities work differently for each individual depending upon the severity and cause of the disease, some people might require personal counseling and attention while others might get better with a group, help from family and friends. Some individuals recover with just one therapy while others might require a combination of therapies till they know what works for them and gain results. A medical or mental health professional can guide an individual in selecting treatment options.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for BED is based on the interrelationship between negative thoughts, stress, and binge eating episodes. The treatment plan is formulated once the root cause for the negative thoughts has been identified. Treatment Specifically aims at self-improvement in terms of achieving regular meal patterns, changing thought processes about self and food, and encouraging healthy weight-control habits.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be of two types,

  1. Therapist-guided therapy.

  2. Self-help therapy.

  • Therapist-Guided Therapy: Therapist-guided CBT has been proven to be the most effective treatment for people with BED, as an individual is monitored by the experts at regular intervals, and any modifications needed to the therapy can be made depending on the visible response of an individual to the treatment. It has given promising long-term results to almost 75 % of people who underwent therapy.

  • Self-Help Therapy: Self-help therapy is another treatment modality that helps an individual gain benefits by putting in initiatives by self under the guidance of a therapist who provides a reference manual and conducts meetings to set goals, it is the best and most accessible method, mobile apps and internet websites have also proven to be helpful in this method.

  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is based on the idea that binging is means of coping with personal problems like grief, breakups, or underlying social aims at identifying the problem associated with the negative eating behavior, understanding them, and then modifying the eating behaviors over 12 – 16 weeks. this therapy has proved to be effective in the short as well as long term.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) considers binge eating to be used to overcome distress by people who face difficulties dealing with daily life events, and feel they have no other option to cope with it.

Four functional areas of DBT are:

  • Mindfulness.

  • Distress tolerance.

  • Emotion regulation.

  • Interpersonal effectiveness.

The effectiveness of this therapy has not been proven but research has provided promising results.

Weight Loss Therapy

This therapy aims at helping people lose weight and improve their body image. It emphasizes leading a healthy life by following dietary and lifestyle modifications that include exercise, and proper sleep. It also helps in regulating the thoughts and views about the food. This therapy has proved effective in cases where weight loss is the primary goal but is less effective in improving binge eating.


Medicinal treatment includes a variety of drugs, which are often cheaper and has rapid action compared to traditional methods of treatment. These medications include antidepressants and antiepileptic drugs that provide symptomatic relief. But medicinal treatments have not proved to be as effective as behavioral therapies. Some placebos are also prescribed which prove helpful in reducing appetite, obsessions, compulsions, and symptoms of depression. These medications do have certain side effects like stomach upset, sleep disturbances, anxiety, etc.

How to Overcome Binge Eating?

To overcome binge eating it is important to seek help from medical professionals, as they can guide by assessing the severity of the disorder and providing proper treatment guidelines. The treatment can range from single therapy to combination therapies depending on the frequency and severity of the disorder. Irrespective of the preferred therapy it is always important to follow a healthy lifestyle.

Self-help strategies:

  • Maintaining a diary to jot down food mood impulses, and working on controlling them.

  • Share your impulse or cravings with someone because talking to a friend, partner, or support group can help overcome the problem.

  • Prefer having a balanced diet that can satisfy hunger as well as can provide better health.

  • Exercise regularly to feel better by reducing anxiety, and elevating mood. It also helps in maintaining weight and improving body image.

  • Sleep well because complete and sound sleep is the key to healthy living, it is important to sleep at least for 7-8 hrs. Sleep deprivation leads to an increase in calorie intake and haphazard eating patterns.


It is an eating disorder where a person eats even when not hungry and feels guilty when the act is done, these people are usually obese, which underlying health issues like hypertension due to obesity. If a person is diagnosed with a binge eating disorder he can be treated with various treatments and therapies available. People with such disorders can also use self-help strategies like maintaining a diary and monitoring portions of meals.

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Last reviewed at:
14 Nov 2022  -  7 min read




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