The Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

April 27, 2016

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a somewhat common type of eating disorder — affecting middle-aged woman more than any other group — that’s different than other well-known eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia nervosa, although has some things in common with both. What is “binge eating” (or binging) exactly, and how is binge eating disorder defined?

Information about binge eating disorder has been evolving over the past several decades as researchers learn more about what drives compulsive eating, obesity and abnormal eating behaviors, but for now binge eating disorder is defined by the National Eating Disorder Association as recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory behaviors (like vomiting, excessive exercise or using laxatives).

Many people who have had binge eating disorder describe it as a cycle of that feels very out of control: binging (often on unhealthy foods that have been deemed “off-limits” or forbidden), followed by feelings of intense shame and guilt, often followed by self-hatred, intense dieting and restricting, and then more binging.

For many people with binge eating disorder mindful eating feels very difficult, and thoughts about food, body weight and eating are near-constant: Did I eat too much? Do I need to restrict? When should I eat again? What should I eat next? Why can’t I just stop eating? Why am I so out of control around food?

Research shows that oftentimes people with eating disorders don’t fall neatly into one category/diagnoses and tend to display more than one type of abnormal eating behavior, in addition to symptoms of depression and anxiety. For example, it’s common for people with all types of eating disorders to engage in behaviors like overeating, restricting, purging, over-exercising, or taking laxatives or diet pills from time to time.

Experts believe that even when someone struggles with binge eating disorder (or is an emotional eater/overeater who doesn’t have a diagnosable eating disorder), he or she likely also restricts food intake and diet frequently. In fact, dieting, obsessing about weight, displaying symptoms of orthorexia, viewing certain foods as forbidden and going too long without eating are all behaviors that increase someone’s chance of developing binge eating disorder.

What Studies Tell Us About the Causes of Binges & Overeating

Like other eating disorders, the cause of binge eating disorder isn’t entirely understood. Researchers believe that BED is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and lifestyle factors. According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association, the following play a role in the formation of BED: (1)

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