What is it? What are the causes? What are the symptoms? Why? Is there treatment? Dispelling myths and answering questions frequently asked about Binge Eating Disorder.

Woman pointing upThere have probably been times we have felt discomfort after eating; consuming too much, ignoring our hunger cues and making the decision to continue to eat. Be it an emotional choice (your mom’s made your favourite dinner and dessert) or physical choice (your eyes were a bit bigger than your stomach), it happens, we digest, eat accordingly for our next meals and move on, right? Wrong, at least for some. However, those with Binge Eating Disorder, which is classified on The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, cannot adjust, move on, or simply stop. They experience the same physical discomfort as the rest of us yet continue to engage with this problematic behaviour and all-consuming behaviour. A misconception however that must be dispelled is that those with Binge Eating Disorder do not find themselves with this eating disorder for lack of willpower or effort. Like all other eating disorders, it is not a conscious or active choice to engage with eating disorders. They aren’t simply avoiding advice or turning a blind eye. They are living with a serious and compromising mental illness that requires professional intervention, patience, compassion and a healthy dose of support from the individuals’ network. Asking or demanding an individual to just “get better” is akin to asking someone with a broken bone to just “heal faster”. They can’t! Recognizing, accepting, and moving on from this will allow all living with an eating disorder a chance at normalcy, instead of hiding in shame, fear, or guilt that they have done something bad or wrong by having an eating disorder. All those who are struggling deserve an opportunity to be seen, heard, and helped. They struggle daily and the criticism they receive from society does nothing to encourage a healthy narrative that eating disorders are fully treatable and those who are struggling right now, do not need to suffer for the rest of their lives. The future is bright, full of opportunities of love, laughter, and acceptance. The road may be long, with lots of twists, turns and a couple detours but eating disorders do not need to be a forever and always kind of thing. It is possible to recover, it is possible to move forward, and it is possible to feel free.

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge Eating Disorder is an eating disorder characterized as the extreme consumption of food in a window of time that is inappropriate for the amount being eaten. Binge Eating Disorder, also referred to as BED differs from the occasional over consumption which many of us have experienced. Those with this ED experience intrusive thoughts which extend beyond just the food, food is a conduit for an emotional and psychological state that causes constant torment.  Binges are recognized as emotional compensation, which encourages those with the disorder to eat well beyond satiation and comfort. A main differentiator of those with BED and those with Bulimia is that those with BED do not engage in compensatory behaviour such as purging or the use of diuretics, laxatives, over exercising, etc. However, after a binge, those with BED often engage in restriction or severe limitation. This behaviour is triggered by feelings of shame and guilt, seen as a way to self-punish for engaging in a binge. This behaviour also can be in anticipation and a part of planning the next binge.

What are types of binge eating?

Although those suffering from BED engage in generally the same behaviour, the triggers which encourage the binging different greatly amongst all. Although no two people are the same, and as such their eating disorders are equally as unique, various emotional states and events have been identified as themes which have been shown to trigger a binge. They are as follows, however, not limited to:

–  Hunger Binge

  • Post restriction or intake limitation – can be intentional (preparing for a binge) or situational (busy, lack of time to nourish completely)

–  Deprivation Binge

  • When one doesn’t feel satisfied with the food they’ve consumed, possibly as a result of avoiding “bad” or one’s “fear” food for a sustained period of time

–  Stress Binge

  • Emotionally driven, this binge is to aid in upset feelings, stress, improve mood, etc

–  Opportunity Binge

  • When one finds themselves in a space and place that they otherwise aren’t frequently in, “allowing” a binge to occur

–  Vengeful Binge

  • Seen as a form of self-punishment, also fuelled be feelings of anger, guilt, shame

–  Pleasure Binge

  • Using food to seek and maintain a state of pleasure

–  Habit Binge

  • As a result of being in a habitual state or place

What are the causes of Binge Eating Disorder?

Like all other eating disorders there is no distinct cause or reason that any one person may develop an eating disorder. However, there are shared situations, circumstances, and emotional states that may help identify why an eating disorder has developed. They are as follows, however not limited to:

–  Trauma

–  Emotional + physical abuse

–  Familial influence

–  Genetics

–  Personality type

  • Ie: perfectionist, obsessive tendencies

–  History of dieting, in particular periodic binges in adolescence

–  Comorbid emotional and mental health struggles

  • Ie: anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder

How is Binge Eating Disorder diagnosed?

Binge Eating Disorder is classified as a diagnosable eating disorder and was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It can be diagnosed by a family practitioner, psychiatrist, or psychologist. It should be noted that weight, body type, and physical appearance have no bearing on an individual’s Binge Eating Disorder diagnosis. BED is diagnosed as a result of behaviours. Although Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by behaviours with a designated cadence, engaging in binge eating is a harmful practice that can and should be treated, diagnosis aside. 

What are binge eating symptoms?

Signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder can be tricky to spot by someone who is not actively looking for indicators that an eating disorder is present. Also, much of BED activities happen in solitude, purposely away from anyone that may notice problematic behaviours. Below is a fulsome list of signs and symptoms to remain cognizant and vigilant of if you suspect BED is a possibility:

  • Consuming large amounts of food in a small or inappropriate window of time
  • Feeling obsessed with food and often out of control about food
  • Intrusive thoughts about binging, always seeking opportunities to binge
  • Heightened pace of consumption
  • Frequently visiting the restroom during a meal and after
  • Seeking opportunities to eat alone
  • Intense feelings of guilt, shame, needing to punish oneself after a binge 

What are the risks of Binge Eating Disorder?

Aside from the psychological and emotional toll Binge Eating Disorder takes, there are significant physical side effects of this eating disorder. Constantly binging and then restricting throws the body’s homeostatic state totally off. Those with BED often experience the below physical side effects:

  • Dry skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Hormonal irregularities
  • Acid reflux
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea/Constipation
  • Irregular blood pressure
  • Possibility of developing diabetes


Q: What hormones cause binge eating?

A: There are certain hormones that encourage the time we eat and the cravings we are experiencing. However, Binge Eating Disorder is an eating disorder and a singular hormone, or multiple, are not responsible for causing this ED. Eating complete meals composed of protein, carbohydrates, and fats is the most effective way to ensure hormones remain in balance and irregular binges and cravings remain at bay. 

Q: How common is Binge Eating Disorder?

A: Binge Eating Disorder is the most prevalent, or common, eating disorder. Below are some statistics as they relate to BED:

  • BED affects almost 3 million adults in the United States
  • BED affects nearly 3x those who have been diagnosed with Anorexia or Bulimia, combined
  • Only 43% of those with BED will seek and receive treatment
  • 40% of those with Binge Eating Disorder are men

Binge Eating Disorder impacts a broader age spectrum than other eating disorders, first developing in teenage years however, BED can persist well into adulthood. 

Q: Can binge eating disorder be prevented?

Eating disorders are very complex full of intricate nuances that differ for everyone suffering. As there are no acute causes for eating disorders, inclusive of Binge Eating Disorder, there are no identifiable ways that BED can absolutely be prevented. However! There are certain early signs and symptoms of BED that are recognizable. If someone you know, love, and care about is displaying any problematic behaviours or patterns, it is important to gently approach them and if possible, encourage them to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional. Intercepting an eating disorder before it fully develops is possible! However, recovering from an eating disorder is also entirely possible, even if the ED fully actualized before intervention was possible.