Binge Eating Disorder: Signs, Causes, and Solutions
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Binge Eating Disorder: Signs, Causes, and Solutions



According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately 28.8 million people in the United States struggle with some kind of eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder.


Of all these conditions, binge eating disorder is one of the most misunderstood. This lack of understanding can hold people back from getting the help and eating disorder treatment they need.


To combat these issues, some of the most frequently asked questions about binge eating behavior, symptoms, and risk factors are answered below.


Table of Contents

(click on a question to be directed quickly)

What is an Eating Disorder?
What is Binge Eating and is it Disorder?
Does Binge Eating count as self harm?
Can you be overweight and have an Eating Disorder?
What causes Binge Eating Disorder?
How Common is Binge Eating Disorder?
How do you cure Binge Eating Disorder?







What Is an Eating Disorder?


According to the American Psychiatric Association, an eating disorder is a behavioral condition “characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions.”


Eating disorders are characterized by severe and persistent disturbances in eating behaviors that often cause weight gain or weight loss. These behaviors are often accompanied by distressing thoughts and feelings around food and a person’s eating habits.




What Is Binge Eating and Is It a Disorder?


The National Eating Disorders Association defines binge eating large amounts of food (larger than what most people eat) within a short period of time. Binge eating is also characterized by a loss of control over one’s eating during that period.


People with binge eating disorder may also engage in other behaviors like skipping meals and then eating a lot of food in a short time frame after going a long while without eating anything at all.


Eating Disorder Therapist Minneapolis



Does Binge Eating Count as Self-Harm?


When many people think of self-harm, they think of behaviors like cutting. In reality, though, binge eating is an eating disorder, and eating disorders are by definition harmful to the body.


The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains that binge eating disorders can contribute to weight gain and a variety of health problems associated with being overweight or obese, including type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, heart disease, digestive disorders, and sleep disorders. Mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation are common among those with binge eating disorders, too.


The International Journal of Eating Disorders argues that eating disorders and nonsuicidal self-injuries (or NSSIs) are comorbid (meaning they occur together). Because of this, they share many similarities. However, NSSIs are often considered direct self-harm, whereas eating disorders are considered indirect self-harm.


This study referenced by the National Eating Disorders Association further expands upon the comorbidity of self-harm and eating disorders. It explains that among women who were hospitalized for an eating disorder, 36.8 percent of them had regularly self-harmed in some way.




Can You Be Overweight and Have an Eating Disorder?


It’s a common misconception that one must be underweight to have an eating disorder. While those with anorexia nervosa are often underweight, they are not the only people who struggle with their body image and can develop eating disorders.


On a similar note, it is not only those who are overweight who suffer from binge eating disorder. Someone with a binge eating disorder may technically be a healthy weight, but they can still engage in binging episodes and have disordered thoughts around food.





What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?


As is the case with other eating disorders, binge eating disorder does not have one clear cause or set of causes associated with it. However, there are some potential risk factors that may contribute to one developing binge eating disorder, including the following:



Family History

According to the Mayo Clinic, those who have parents or siblings with a history of binge eating disorder are more likely to struggle with this condition themselves.


There may be a genetic component that predisposes some people to binge eating disorder. Their likelihood of developing this issue may also stem from seeing family members cope with negative emotions and mental health challenges by turning to food.



Dieting History

People who have a history of dieting, poor body image, and constant attempts to lose weight may be more prone to binge eating disorder than those who have not spent significant portions of their life dieting.


This has to do, in part, with chronic calorie restriction. If a person is constantly undereating, they may find that they’re more inclined to binge and eat to excess when they do finally give themselves permission to eat.



Psychological Problems

Binge eating disorder and mental health conditions often go hand in hand.


This study published in the journal Eating Disorders, for example, revealed that 30 percent of people with binge eating disorder showed signs of personality disorders. Furthermore, 10 percent had obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD) and 10 percent had borderline personality disorder.


This study published by the International Journal of Eating Disorders also revealed that 73.8 percent of people with binge eating disorder also had at least one other lifetime psychiatric disorder (mood disorders, anxiety, and substance use disorders were most common), and 43.1 percent had at least one current psychiatric disorder (mood and anxiety disorders were most common).




How Common Is Binge Eating Disorder?


According to this study published by Biological Psychology, approximately 1.25 percent of adult women and 0.42 percent of adult men have binge eating disorder. This might seem like a small number, but it still works out to be well over 1 million men and women who are struggling.


Furthermore, this study published by the Archives of General Psychiatry reveals that approximately 1.6 percent of teens aged 13 to 18 are affected by it as well.


The study from Biological Psychology also revealed that, on average, most people first develop binge eating disorder at age 25. Nearly two-thirds of those who meet the criteria for binge eating disorder also experience episodes over a span of at least 1 year.




How Do You Cure Binge Eating Disorder?

As is the case with other eating disorders, the best treatment for binge eating disorder typically involves multiple strategies, including the following:




Psychotherapy or talk therapy is one of the most common (and effective) techniques for addressing binge eating disorder. Some popular therapy types for binge eating disorder include:


  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (or CBT): A type of therapy that helps patients develop healthy coping skills, control behavior, and regulate eating patterns.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy: A type of therapy that focuses on one’s relationships with others and can reduce binge eating behaviors that are triggered by problematic relationships or poor communication skills.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy: A type of therapy that helps one learn behavioral skills to better tolerate stress, regulate their emotions, and improve their relationships, all of which can reduce their chances of binge eating.



Certain medications may also benefit those struggling with binge eating disorder, including the following:


  • Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (brand name Vyvanse): This is a drug for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and is the first FDA-approved medication for adults with moderate-to-severe binge-eating disorder.
  • Topiramate (brand name Topamax): This is an anticonvulsant that may reduce binge-eating episodes.
  • Antidepressants: For those who struggle with depression along with binge eating disorder, antidepressants may be beneficial in reducing binge-eating episodes.


Behavioral Treatment Programs

Some people also see good results when they participate in a behavioral treatment program. These programs are comparable, in some ways, to rehab programs for those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction.


Behavioral treatment programs are medically supervised. They provide a controlled environment in which one can lose weight, learn to eat more healthfully, and participate in therapy that helps them to address their triggers and reduce their chances of engaging in binge eating episodes in the future.



National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

American Psychiatric Association: What Are Eating Disorders?

Binge eating: Binge Eating Disorder

Weight gain and a variety of health problems: Definition & Facts for Binge Eating Disorder

Comorbidity of self-harm and eating disorders: STATISTICS & RESEARCH ON EATING DISORDERS

Mayo Clinic: Binge Eating Disorder

Tagay, S., Schlottbohm, E., Reyes-Rodriguez, M. L., Repic, N., & Senf, W. (2014). Eating disorders, trauma, PTSD, and psychosocial resources. Eating disorders, 22(1), 33–49.

Grilo, C. M., White, M. A., & Masheb, R. M. (2009). DSM-IV psychiatric disorder comorbidity and its correlates in binge eating disorder. The International journal of eating disorders, 42(3), 228–234.

Udo, T., & Grilo, C. M. (2018). Prevalence and Correlates of DSM-5-Defined Eating Disorders in a Nationally Representative Sample of U.S. Adults. Biological psychiatry, 84(5), 345–354.

Swanson, S. A., Crow, S. J., Le Grange, D., Swendsen, J., & Merikangas, K. R. (2011). Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in adolescents. Results from the national comorbidity survey replication adolescent supplement. Archives of general psychiatry, 68(7), 714–723.

Fala, L. Vyvanse (Lisdexamfetamine Dimesylate): First FDA-Approved Drug for the Treatment of Adults with Binge-Eating Disorder.



Written By: Natalie T.

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, LMFT

Last Updated : 04/18/2023




Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives. We do this through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. Inspired by this, we write content for your own education. Also, our content is researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals.  However, the information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Additionally, it should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.






Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

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