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Eating Disorders

This section focuses on the often taboo subject of eating disorders. Here, we shed light on these topics and introduce the risks of each, as well as ways to overcome them.

Binge Eating Disorder

Nearly everyone has some level of association between certain foods and feeling of comfort that dopamine can bring. However, staying aware of the emotional triggers that can result in binge eating for you, personally, can lead to smarter decisions.


It happens...

Reaching for a spoon to eat a small bowl of ice cream turns into finishing an entire container of ice cream. Then maybe grabbing a bag of chips, crackers, and anything else in the pantry. It is important though, to realize that binge eating is much more than eating a large amount of food.

Bingeing episodes can be identified as eating more rapidly than usual, eating until uncomfortably full, eating when not feeling physically hungry. One may also avoid social eating and feel very guilty and depressed after overeating.

However, the science of binge eating goes beyond moments and feelings of weakness.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating is compulsive eating, which is often triggered by unwanted stress and emotions. After binging, feelings of guilt, shame, and depression often emerge. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder. Some estimates put the number of Americans with binge eating disorder at about 3 percent of all adults. This approximates to about 4 million people.

The National Eating Disorders Association suggests what is known about BED is limited compared to anorexia and bulimia nervosa eating disorders. To bridge the gap, the NEDA compiled some of the facts and statistics on BED:

• About 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men has had BED during their life.
• Between 0.2 and 3.5 percent of females and 0.9 and 2.0 percent of males will develop binge eating disorder.
• Binge eating disorder often begins in late teens or early 20s. However, it can also occur in both young children and older adults.
• Approximately 40 percent of those with binge eating disorder are male.
• Of three out of ten individuals who show signs of binge eating, weight loss is of interest.

Causes of Binge Eating

The causes of binge eating disorder are not well-known. However, genetics, biological factors, family histories, dieting patterns, societal pressures, and other psychological issues can increase the risk. People who have binge eating disorders typically also display the following characteristics:

• Low self-esteem
• Lack of self-confidence
• Depression or anxiety
• Poor body image
• Stressful or traumatic past events
• Pressure to be thin
• Perfectionism

There is also a link between hormone imbalances and binge eating. These particular hormones are ones that regulate appetite and satiety, including leptin and ghrelin.

Ghrelin, the "hunger hormone," is one of the key gut signals associated with appetite. Leptin is associated with satiety and has the opposite effects of ghrelin. For some individuals, these hormones become out of whack. The imbalance of each can lead to an increase in appetite and a decrease feeling of fullness, ultimately contributing to overeating.

Dopamine is also activated during binge eating bouts and it released as a sense of pleasure heightens. It makes one feel good, and the reason why it is also known as the “feel good” hormone.

With the pantry cleared out and containers and wrappers empty, guilt starts to kick in. The guilt spins more feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression and the binge eating cascade occurs all over again.

Signs of a Binge Disorder

Individuals with BED are often overweight or obese, though they can also be of average weight. However, binge eating disorder signs are mostly based on behavioral and emotional cues, including the following sourced by Mayo Clinic:

• Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as over a two-hour period
• Feeling that eating behavior is out of control
• Eating even when full or not hungry
• Eating rapidly during binge episodes
• Eating until uncomfortably full
• Frequently eating alone or in secret
• Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about eating patterns
• Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

In addition to signs and symptoms, there are also a variety of triggers that can cause an episode of binge eating. These include:

• Stress
• Boredom
• Anger
• Fear
• Anxiety
• Loneliness

If experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away. And if hesitant to reach out for help, confide in a trusting and supportive individual. This may include a close friend or family member.

If noticing these patterns in a loved one, it is important to acknowledge them as non-judgmentally as possible. Be open and honesty, along with supportive and encouraging of getting treatment.

Finding proper care is important to lower the risk of health conditions, including malnutrition and heart disease. What’s more, it could even be lifesaving.

How to Stop Binge Eating

The science of binge eating can be a vicious cycle that brings on a tougher challenge than just saying "no." Resorting to food for comfort during stressful moments can ultimately correlate negative relationships with food.

First and foremost, though, consult with a professional for a true diagnosis and binge eating disorder treatment. This especially serves true if bingeing has become an uncontrollable, regular component of life.

Because overall, binge eating disorder may present an individual with a way of coping with problems of identity and personal control. That being said, it is imperative to dig deep to the underlying cause that raises the risk of a binge.

Bingeing may be related to a negative self-image or persistent stress. The following self-help and methods could be beneficial:

• Wearing clothes feeling both comfortable and confident in
• Steering clear from the scale
• Staying away from outlets that often distort an appropriate body, including magazines and social phone apps
• Getting a massage or facial
• Keeping active by hiking out in nature, biking with friends, and other favorite physical activities
• Relieving stress by taking warm bath, journaling, or calling a family member

The following techniques have also been explored in the treatment of binge eating disorder and stopping binge patterns.

Meditation is a growing intervention for disordered eating patterns, including an effective component of treating BED.

A 6-week study found using meditation decreased binge eating frequency from 4 times per week down to 1.5 times per week. Their sense of control increased, while Beck Depression and Anxiety scores decreased significantly as well. A more recent review published in Eating Behaviors also suggests mindfulness meditation decreases binge eating and emotional eating.

Medications for Binge Eating & Depression
There are a number of known medications that may be effective in managing BED, including:

• Vyvanse, a drug primarily used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• Topamax, which is an anticonvulsant prescribed to control seizures, may also reduce binge eating
• Antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been shown to be modestly effective for reducing binge eating over
• Anti-anxiety medications

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, as useful for teaching how to develop healthier coping techniques. Sessions may be in individual or group settings and may include cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and family therapy.

Binge eating disorder treatment may be inclusive to a multidisciplinary approach, including with the assistance of a counselor and dietitian. A stepped care treatment appears to be helpful for individuals who are ready to tackle their binge eating disorder head-on.

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on December 20, 2015. Updated on April 29, 2019.


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