Binge eating health risks

Binge Eating Disorder

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is an illness that involves eating a lot of food in a short amount of time. The person with binge eating disorder feels out of control about how much he or she eats. More food is eaten than others eat in the same amount of time, under the same circumstances. It differs from bulimia. People with binge eating disorder don’t purge their bodies of the excess food via vomiting, laxative abuse, or diuretic abuse.

Who is affected by binge eating disorder?

People with binge eating disorder often:

  • Eat large amounts of food

  • Don’t stop eating until they are uncomfortably full

  • Feel embarrassed by the amount of food they are eating

  • Have a history of weight gains and losses

  • Have more trouble losing weight and keeping it off than people with other serious weight problems

About 1% to 2% of the population have binge eating disorder. It’s seen more often in women than in men.

What are complications of binge eating disorder?

Complications from binge eating disorder include:

  • Overweight or obesity

  • Increased risk for:

    • High cholesterol

    • High blood pressure

    • Diabetes

    • Gallbladder disease

    • Heart disease

    • Some types of cancer

  • Increased risk for psychiatric illnesses, particularly depression

People with binge eating disorder typically eat huge amounts of food at one time — often junk food — to reduce stress and relieve anxiety.

  • Guilt and depression usually follow binge eating.

  • People with binge eating disorder are at higher risk for depressive mood disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Biochemistry and eating disorders

To understand eating disorders, researchers have studied the central nervous and hormonal systems. This system regulates many functions of the mind and body. It has been found that many of the following functions may be, to some degree, disturbed in people with eating disorders:

  • Sexual function

  • Physical growth and development

  • Appetite and digestion

  • Sleep

  • Heart function

  • Kidney function

  • Emotions

  • Thinking

  • Memory

Eating disorders and depression

Many people with eating disorders also appear to have depression. It is believed that there may be a link between these 2 disorders. For example:

  • Research has shown that some people with binge eating disorder may respond well to antidepressant medicine that affects serotonin function in the body.

  • Biochemical similarities have been discovered between people with eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and people with OCD often have abnormal eating behaviors.

Genetic and environmental factors related to eating disorders

Eating disorders tend to run in families, and female relatives are the most often affected. That is why genetic factors are believed to play a role in the disorders.

But, other influences, both behavioral and environmental, may also play a role. Consider these facts from the American Psychiatric Association:

  • Most people with binge eating disorder are adolescent and young adult women. Yet this disorder can also affect older women and males of any age.

  • People pursuing professions or activities that emphasize thinness, like modeling, dancing, gymnastics, wrestling, and long-distance running, are more prone to this disorder.

Managing the Health Risks of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder involves uncontrollable overeating that can lead to weight gain and other physical and emotional issues. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people with binge eating disorder experience more health problems and stress than other people do.

Binge eating disorder is also associated with shame and poor self-esteem, says Kathleen Ashton, PhD, a psychologist in the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic and a member of the American Psychological Association.

During a binge eating episode, a person quickly eats abnormally large amounts of food. Although binge eaters may feel uncomfortably full after an episode, they don’t try to compensate for this large intake of calories, unlike people with bulimia who try to control weight gain through vomiting, laxatives, or other methods, Dr. Ashton says.

While binge eating disorder can lead to health risks and emotional issues like depression, there are ways you can reduce these risks and improve your quality of life.

Binge Eating and Obesity

Eating large amounts of food can definitely lead to weight gain, and obesity is a serious health problem, Ashton explains. Binge eaters are often overweight or obese, however not all are.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that binge eaters who are obese are at risk for all of the health problems related to obesity, including type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, gallbladder disease, and joint and muscle pain.

Women who binge eat and are obese have additional risks, such as irregular periods and infertility. Women are also at greater risk of problems during pregnancy, such as high blood sugar and increased risk of having a cesarean delivery.

Binge Eating and Emotional Problems

Not all health risks associated with binge eating disorder are linked to obesity, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Many of the risks are related to mental health and emotional problems.

Binge eating disorder is commonly associated with depression, which can be both a risk factor for the eating disorder and a consequence of it.

People who binge eat often struggle with poor self-image as well as feelings of shame and guilt about their behavior. Although they’re in a great deal of distress, people with binge eating disorder typically keep their problem a secret. “These people are usually closet eaters and wait until they’re alone to eat,” Ashton says. “They also hide the evidence of eating from other people.”

These feelings can become so severe that binge eating interferes with relationships, sleep, and overall quality of life, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. A study published in November 2013 in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that suicide attempts were more common in women with all types of eating disorders, including binge eating disorder.

How to Minimize Health Risks of Binge Eating Disorder

To protect your health and prevent the emotional and physical complications of binge eating disorder, it’s important to get help. Take these steps:

Recognize the problem. The first step is to understand and accept that your symptoms indicate an actual disorder that should be treated. Then, you can identify underlying issues that trigger episodes of binge eating and address those issues. It’s also important to form a healthier relationship with food and become more comfortable and confident with yourself in general.

Ease anxiety. Relaxation techniques like deep-breathing exercises can help ease stress related to depression, according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. If you have anxiety or symptoms of depression due to binge eating disorder, you might also try yoga, listening to music, and other relaxation therapies.

Exercise. Regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of certain health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, and help relieve stress and symptoms of depression. Talk to your doctor about how to get started with a healthy exercise routine that’s best for you.

Stop restrictive dieting. Traditional weight-loss strategies may do more harm than good. “Any type of intervention that involves restriction could trigger a rebound binge, particularly for people with a history of other eating disorders,” Ashton says.

Make healthier food choices. You may want to work with a dietitian to learn about good nutrition and healthier food choices. A dietitian can help you realize how your eating patterns may be harmful and can help you create a healthier food plan.

Keep a food diary. Tracking what you eat and when you eat it can help you recognize how your feelings affect your eating patterns. Create a food diary to determine what triggers you to binge eat.

Seek support. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) is effective for people with binge eating disorder. In addition to one-on-one sessions, you may benefit from group or family therapy as well. Talk therapy is also used to treat depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems that can contribute to binge eating disorder.

What is an Eating Disorder (ED)?

Eating Disorders describe illnesses that are characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape.

Eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being. The most common forms of eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder and affect both females and males.

Demi Lovato speaks about her eating disorder. As posted by I Choose People

Disordered eating issues can develop during any stage in life but typically appear during the teen years or young adulthood. Classified as a medical illness, appropriate treatment can be highly effectual for many of the specific types of eating disorders.

Although these conditions are treatable, the symptoms and consequences can be detrimental and deadly if not addressed. Eating disorders commonly coexist with other conditions, such as anxiety disorders, substance abuse, or depression.

Types of Disordered Eating

The three most common types of Eating Disorders are as follows:

  • Anorexia Nervosa-The male or female suffering from anorexia nervosa will typically have an obsessive fear of gaining weight, refusal to maintain a healthy body weight and an unrealistic perception of body image. Many people with anorexia nervosa will fiercely limit the quantity of food they consume and view themselves as overweight, even when they are clearly underweight. Anorexia can have damaging health effects, such as brain damage, multi-organ failure, bone loss, heart difficulties, and infertility. The risk of death is highest in individuals with this disease.
  • Bulimia Nervosa-This eating disorder is characterized by repeated binge eating followed by behaviors that compensate for the overeating, such as forced vomiting, excessive exercise, or extreme use of laxatives or diuretics. Men and women who suffer from Bulimia may fear weight gain and feel severely unhappy with their body size and shape. The binge-eating and purging cycle is typically done in secret, creating feelings of shame, guilt, and lack of control. Bulimia can have injuring effects, such as gastrointestinal problems, severe dehydration, and heart difficulties resulting from an electrolyte imbalance.
  • Binge Eating Disorder- Individuals who suffer from Binge Eating Disorder will frequently lose control over his or her eating. Different from bulimia nervosa however, episodes of binge-eating are not followed by compensatory behaviors, such as purging, fasting, or excessive exercise. Because of this, many people suffering from BED may be obese and at an increased risk of developing other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. Men and women who struggle with this disorder may also experience intense feelings of guilt, distress, and embarrassment related to their binge-eating, which could influence the further progression of the eating disorder.

Causes of Disordered Eating

EDs are complex disorders, influenced by a facet of factors. Though the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown, it is generally believed that a combination of biological, psychological, and/or environmental abnormalities contribute to the development of these illnesses.

Examples of biological factors include:

  • Irregular hormone functions
  • Genetics (the tie between eating disorders and one’s genes is still being heavily researched, but we know that genetics is a part of the story).
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Examples of psychological factors include:

  • Negative body image
  • Poor self-esteem

Examples of environmental factors that would contribute to the occurrence of eating disorders are:

  • Dysfunctional family dynamic
  • Professions and careers that promote being thin and weight loss, such as ballet and modeling
  • Aesthetically oriented sports, where an emphasis is placed on maintaining a lean body for enhanced performance.
    • Examples include:
      • Rowing
      • Diving
      • Ballet
      • Gymnastics
      • Wrestling
      • Long distance running
  • Family and childhood traumas: childhood sexual abuse, severe trauma
  • Cultural and/or peer pressure among friends and co-workers
  • Stressful transitions or life changes

Signs & Symptoms of an ED

A man or woman suffering from an eating disorder may reveal several signs and symptoms, some which are:

  • Chronic dieting despite being hazardously underweight
  • Constant weight fluctuations
  • Obsession with calories and fat contents of food
  • Engaging in ritualistic eating patterns, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, eating alone, and/or hiding food
  • Continued fixation with food, recipes, or cooking; the individual may cook intricate meals for others but refrain from partaking
  • Depression or lethargic stage
  • Avoidance of social functions, family, and friends. May become isolated and withdrawn
  • Switching between periods of overeating and fasting

Treatment for Disordered Eating

Because of the severity and complexities of these conditions, a comprehensive and professional treatment team specializing in eating disorders is often fundamental in establishing healing and recovery.

Treatment plans are utilized in addressing the many concerns a man or woman may be facing in the restoration of their health and well-being and are often tailored to meet individual needs.

Treatment for an ED is usually comprised of one or more of the following and addressed with medical doctors, nutritionists, and therapists for complete care:

  • Medical Care and Monitoring-The highest concern in the treatment of eating disorders is addressing any health issues that may have been a consequence of eating disordered behaviors.
  • Nutrition: This would involve weight restoration and stabilization, guidance for normal eating, and the integration of an individualized meal plan.
  • Therapy: Different forms of psychotherapy, such as individual, family, or group, can be helpful in addressing the underlying causes of eating disorders. Therapy is a fundamental piece of treatment because it affords an individual in recovery the opportunity to address and heal from traumatic life events and learn healthier coping skills and methods for expressing emotions, communicating and maintaining healthy relationships.
  • Medications: Some medications may be effective in helping resolve mood or anxiety symptoms that can occur with an eating disorder or in reducing binge-eating and purging behaviors.

Varying levels of treatment, ranging from outpatient support groups to inpatient treatment centers, are available and based on the severity of the eating disorder. In any case, recognizing and addressing the ED are crucial in being able to begin treatment.

ED Articles

1. Anorexia kills people. In fact, this disease enjoys the highest fatality rate of any psychiatric disorder. In the case of a celebrity death, the media provides coverage. Perhaps the first recognized case was that of Karen Carpenter in the early 8Os. An anorexic who relied on ipecac for vomiting, she died of heart failure. Years later, she was followed by Christina Renee Henrich, a world-class gymnast who died in 1994.

2. Female Athlete Triad Syndrome is a dangerous illness that can cause women who are extreme in their sports to have lifelong health concerns. Their coaches, friends, and family need to pay attention and help prevent the athlete from developing Female Athlete Triad Syndrome.

3. Major life changes can be a trigger to those fighting an eating disorder. Beginning college is no exception. The young man or woman is leaving home, friends and family to venture off into the unknown. College can be challenging and difficult for all students, but more so for others. This progression into adulthood is often a significant life altering event, and college can sadly trigger or lead to an eating disorder.

4. Eating disorders are more commonly associated with Caucasian females who are well-educated and from the upper socio-economic class. Eating disorders are also viewed as a western world affliction and not commonly related to other ethnic groups. This is not an accurate assumption. Eating disorders are prevalent in many different cultures and have been for a long time. This just continues to prove there are no barriers when it comes to disordered eating. Males, females, Caucasians, African Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans and other ethnic minorities all can struggle with eating disorders.

5. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia. Gay and bisexual men who are single tend to feel more pressure to be thin and resort to restrictive EDs while those in a relationship turn to bulimia. Women in the lesbian and bisexual community still struggle with eating disorders similar to most heterosexual women with eating disorders, but lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to have mood disorders.

6. There is no such thing as the perfect dancer. Female ballet dancers work very hard at their craft but often find themselves in the throes of an eating disorder. Ballet dancers have long been known to develop eating disorders, and this can, to a degree, be understood because the dancer stands in front of a large mirror during practice and compares herself to all of her peers. In addition, it does not help that the industry of ballet dancing is extremely obsessed with weight.

7. Is vegetarianism contributing to disordered eating? Currently, just about five percent of Americans define themselves as a vegetarian (a person who removes meat and animal products from their diet). This percentage does not include those who consider themselves to be “quasi-vegetarians” (people who eat some animal-based products but primarily rely on a plant-based diet). Vegetarianism is much more prevalent for those who struggle with eating disorders. About half of the patients fighting an eating disorder practice some form of vegetarian diet.

8. In addressing the many medical complications of an eating disorder, the more urgent concerns typically take priority, such as undernourishment or an unstable heartbeat. However, some of the health consequences related to disordered eating affect the individual in the long term, even if they aren’t more apparent or obvious. Bone loss, or osteoporosis, is a silent but debilitating condition that commonly impacts women with EDs, such as Anorexia Nervosa. If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, read this article to learn more about ways you can prevent and treat bone density loss and eating disorders

9. With the mass amount of misguided information about eating disorders, it is common for these serious illnesses to be misunderstood, oversimplified, or greatly generalized. The truth of the matter is that Eating Disorders are complex diseases caused by a multitude of factors. Men or women who struggle with disordered eating have a serious mental illness with potentially life-threatening consequences. Understanding the implications of disordered eating can help increase awareness about ways to get help. Read this article to learn the myths vs. facts about eating disorders, which are serious mental conditions.

10. In the rapid evolution of our society today, advances in technology have dictated the course of human interactions. The way we interface with one another is largely hinged on the capacities that have developed throughout the years. Face-to-face connections are often pushed aside for text messaging, emails, and the like. What has been lost and sacrificed in the name of convenience and expediency? Read more here.

11. The media can be a culprit for generating images that falsify the reality of human bodies, but what drives an individual to idealize the representation of body perfection? As scientists unfold the blueprint of our genetic make-up, it is evident that both environment and genetics play an integral role in the formation of body image. Read more here.

12. While the transition to college is an exciting time for young adults, full of opportunities for independence and self-discovery, it also comes with an array of stressors. It’s often the first time a young adult lives apart from their primary support system. Learn about how college life (and especially as an athlete) can put people at risk for eating disorders.

13. Anyone who has any experience with doing battle with an eating disorder knows the challenge of wrestling with their “demons” and regaining control of their lives. I can’t think of any time more difficult than the free time from work or college, aka summer vacation. This is when most of us can find ourselves even more focused on body image and hear our ED talking loudest to us.

14. For individuals struggling with an eating disorder spurred from pressures or dysfunctions in their family, this summer break readjustment is exacerbated. For most, home is a loving and safe environment. However, for some, home may have been different.

15. In the treatment of eating disorders, mirror neurons play an interesting role. Often those with a disorder such as anorexia tend to experience rigidity and inflexibility in their thoughts and actions. The way they conduct their lives is often through a very black and white perspective. This is particularly evident in their perceptions of food and food consumption.

16. Most college students have been primed on how not to gain the “freshman 15.” But they likely haven’t been primed on just how dangerous it can be to try and avoid gaining those 15 pounds as a freshman or primed on the red flag warning signs of an eating disorder.

17. There is a close relationship between anxiety and all types of disordered eating. One study found that 64% of the 674 anorexic and bulimic participants had a diagnosable anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

18. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, which is why treatment is often so critical. In ED treatment, those with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder are given the tools and skills to get well. These strategies are designed to help them cope with uncomfortable feelings or distress; they are intended to replace the need for disordered eating and prevent a relapse. Because the truth is, an eating disorder is an unhealthy, maladaptive coping technique.

19. Anyone, from a princess to a pauper, can fall victim to these life-altering—and life-threatening—mental illnesses. Friends, relatives, lovers, acquaintances—even celebrities, the people we admire as stars, the most powerful, or the most beautiful among us, are or have been afflicted.

20. Interview with Dr. Thomas Britton, DrPH, LPC, LCAS, CCS, ACS: “I was very fortunate that my own journey to recovery didn’t include the pain and isolation of disordered eating, but the patterns and pain experienced in my early years shared many parallels and gave me great empathy for those with eating disorders. Back then, there was only one treatment center in my area that provided hospital-based care and no outpatient therapists existed that were trained in ED.“

21. Many individuals work diligently and tirelessly to make college a reality, and can abruptly interfere with these goals and dreams. Is it possible to both attend college while receiving treatment for disordered eating?

22. If you’ve also had a pre-existing fear about food and a pre-occupation (or full-blown obsession) with your weight, shape, and size then college can be an extremely difficult time. In addition, there can be whole new levels of social pressure around being thin that you’re just not used to dealing with.

23. Your loved one cannot be in a position to communicate effectively with you until that stabilization and maintenance have occurred. After that stabilization of eating patterns occurs, the real family work can develop. It is important to recognize that your loved one still needs patience from you as they continue to learn how to communicate their emotions in a healthy way.

24. As a marriage and family therapist, I have treated numerous families where a son or daughter is recovering from these debilitating disorders. Moms and Dads and brothers and sisters are on the front lines with the one struggling to recover from anorexia or bulimia. They are also vital members of the treatment team whose support is crucial in helping someone fully recover from their eating disorder. And one thing I reiterate to all of the families I work with during counseling is that no one is to blame for the disorder but everyone can assist in the recovery.

25. Most eating disorders are anathema to those who do not have one, but certain food-related illnesses are particularly alarming and baffling to the public at large. PICA is certainly one of them.

26. This led me to wonder- how hard must mindfulness be for those that look toward these holidays with dread rather than joyous anticipation? While there are many reasons that the holiday season is challenging for people, for the purposes of this article, I will focus on those individuals whose difficulty around the holidays is related to their eating disorders.

27. We all have well learned that while there is excitement about being with family and friends during the Holiday season, there is also a certain amount of stress. For those who are feeling “pretty good” emotionally, the holidays can enhance those positive emotional and relationship experiences.

28. The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone, regardless of whether an eating disorder is involved in your life. Commonly, there are plans to be made, family members and loved ones to visit with, parties and social gatherings to attend, gifts to buy, meals to make, and often inundation with food.

29. Thyroid problems are extremely common population-wide and are an issue for some in recovery from eating disorders as well. However, the type of dysfunction that occurs in the general population and those with a history of an eating disorder are not usually the same.

30. Today, we are bombarded with photos of today’s “beautiful women” in magazines, commercials, TV shows, movies and online photos. These women that represent today’s standard of beauty look very different from women of the past. The women displayed on the nationally broadcasted Victoria’s Secret runway shows each year epitomize the extreme standards the media portrays as “sexy” and “beautiful.”

Page Last Reviewed and Updated By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 11, 2018
Published on, Eating Disorder Information Help & Resources

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are illnesses that manifest themselves in extreme unhealthy eating patterns. They are mental conditions that affect eating habits but are not necessarily tied to a specific body type; someone with an eating disorder can appear very thin, healthy weighted or above healthy weight. Although symptoms of these disorders emerge primarily in young women, eating disorders can affect anyone from any gender, age, ethnicity and income level.

There are a few main types of eating disorders, highlighted below. An individual with an eating disorder can suffer from more than one of the following types of disorders. The following describes the symptoms and not the causes of eating disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa involves the partial or total abstinence from food (solids or liquids) because she/he believes any amount of food will cause weight gain. An anorexic often perceives herself/himself as ‘fat’ and has an intense fear of gaining weight. This is reflected in an unhealthy preoccupation with food and exercise, and sometimes purging through self-induced vomiting and laxative abuse.

Bulimia Nervosa is often associated with binge-eating disorder as a bulimic is often engaged in a cycle of binging and purging. Bingeing is characterized by the consumption of a large amount of food (in comparison to what the individual normally consumes) in a short period of time and is frequently emotionally-induced. Purging arises from the guilt of overeating and involves self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, excessive exercising and extreme fasting.

Binge-eating Disorder involves binging excessively with periods of uncontrolled, impulsive and continuous eating to the point of being uncomfortably full, with no compensatory behaviour (purging) after. Bingeing is usually triggered by an emotional event that causes the individual to turn to food as a means of comfort, the aftermath of which often results in guilt and self-loathing.

Orthorexia Nervosa is a relatively lesser-known eating disorder which involves extreme exercise and obsession with eating what is perceived to be ‘healthy’ foods. They reject any food that is perceived as unhealthy such as food with oil, butter, carbohydrates etc. Sometimes orthorexics eliminate such a large number of foods from their diet that they become emaciated, which results in anorexia orthorexia. However, anorexia and orthorexia are different illnesses that arise from different intentions with anorexics usually seeking to lose weight whereas orthorexics typically seek to attain pure, clean and healthy bodies.

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

BED is one of the newest eating disorders formally recognized in the DSM-5. Before the most recent revision in 2013, BED was listed as a subtype of EDNOS (now referred to as OSFED). The change is important because some insurance companies will not cover eating disorder treatment without a DSM diagnosis.


  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
    • Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
    • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).
  • The binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
    • Eating much more rapidly than normal.
    • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
    • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
    • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
    • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.
  • The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging) as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.


Emotional and behavioral

  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or lots of empty wrappers and containers indicating consumption of large amounts of food.
  • Appears uncomfortable eating around others
  • Any new practice with food or fad diets, including cutting out entire food groups (no sugar, no carbs, no dairy, vegetarianism/veganism)
  • Fear of eating in public or with others
  • Steals or hoards food in strange places
  • Creates lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge sessions
  • Withdraws from usual friends and activities
  • Frequently diets
  • Shows extreme concern with body weight and shape
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
  • Has secret recurring episodes of binge eating (eating in a discrete period of time an amount of food that is much larger than most individuals would eat under similar circumstances); feels lack of control over ability to stop eating
  • Disruption in normal eating behaviors, including eating throughout the day with no planned mealtimes; skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals; engaging in sporadic fasting or repetitive dieting
  • Developing food rituals (e.g., eating only a particular food or food group , excessive chewing, and not allowing foods to touch).
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment at the quantity of food being eaten
  • Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after overeating
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Feelings of low self-esteem


  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
  • Stomach cramps, other non-specific gastrointestinal complaints (constipation, acid reflux, etc.)
  • Difficulties concentrating


The health risks of BED are most commonly those associated with clinical obesity, weight stigma, and weight cycling (aka, yo-yo dieting). Most people who are labeled clinically obese do not have binge eating disorder. However, of individuals with BED, up to two-thirds are labelled clinically obese; people who struggle with binge eating disorder tend to be of normal or higher-than-average weight, though BED can be diagnosed at any weight.

  • Learn more about health consequences >
  • Learn more about eating disorders statistics >

Definition & Facts for Binge Eating Disorder

In this section:

  • What is binge eating disorder?
  • How is binge eating disorder different from bulimia nervosa?
  • How common is binge eating disorder?
  • Who is more likely to develop binge eating disorder?
  • What other health problems can you have with binge eating disorder?

Binge eating is when you eat a large amount of food in a short amount of time and feel that you can’t control what or how much you are eating. If you binge eat regularly—at least once a week for 3 months, you may have binge eating disorder.

If you have binge eating disorder, you may be very upset by your binge eating. You also may feel ashamed and try to hide your problem. Even your close friends and family members may not know you binge eat.

If you have binge eating disorder, you may be very upset by your binge eating.

How is binge eating disorder different from bulimia nervosa?

Unlike people with binge eating disorder, people who have bulimia nervosa try to prevent weight gain after binge eating by vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising too much.

How common is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States. About 3.5 percent of adult women and 2 percent of adult men have binge eating disorder. For men, binge eating disorder is most common in midlife, between the ages of 45 to 59.1

For women, binge eating disorder most commonly starts in early adulthood, between the ages of 18 and 29. About 1.6 percent of teenagers are affected.2 A much larger number of adults and children have episodes of binge eating or loss-of-control eating, but the episodes do not occur frequently enough to meet the criteria for binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder affects African Americans as often as whites. More research is needed on how often binge eating disorder affects people in other racial and ethnic groups.

Who is more likely to develop binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder can occur in people of average body weight but is more common in people with obesity, particularly severe obesity. However, it is important to note that most people with obesity do not have binge eating disorder.

Painful childhood experiences—such as family problems and critical comments about your shape, weight, or eating—also are associated with developing binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder also runs in families, and there may be a genetic component as well.

What other health problems can you have with binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder may lead to weight gain and health problems related to obesity. Overweight and obesity are associated with many health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. People with binge eating disorder may also have mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. Some people with binge eating disorder also have problems with their digestive system, or joint and muscle pain.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is characterized by repeated and uncontrollable bouts of consuming abnormally large amounts of food.1 This behavior often results in feelings of guilt, disgust, or depression and causes the person engaging in the behavior significant distress.1 For many people, this behavior begins after being exposed to certain stressors earlier in life.2 However, many do not seek treatment for binge eating disorder and instead suffer with this illness in silence.3

The following is a list of notable binge eating disorder statistics:3,4,5

  • Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States.
  • 2.8% of American adults will struggle with binge eating disorder in their lifetime.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of any mental disorder.
  • Many people who are suffering from binge eating disorder will have at least one medical diagnosis that could be life-threatening.
  • At least 50% of the risk for developing binge eating disorder is genetic.
  • Almost 50% of people with binge eating disorder suffer from some sort of mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder.
  • More than 50% of people struggling with binge eating disorder have an anxiety disorder, most commonly generalized anxiety disorder.
  • 1 in 10 people who have binge eating disorder also abuse substances, most often alcohol.
  • Less than half (43%) of people dealing with a binge eating disorder seek treatment.

Learn more about Behavioral Health

Behavioral health refers to a person’s state of being and how their behaviors and choices affect their overall health and wellness. Substance abuse and addictions of all kinds fall into the realm of behavioral health. Behavioral health disorders are illnesses that are precipitated or perpetuated by your conscious decisions and which you are unable to resist the urge to repeat, despite negative consequences. Read More

How Does It Develop?

Binge eating disorder has only recently been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a distinct, clinically significant mental health disorder.1 Because of this, researchers and clinicians should know more about the causes and development of the disorder within the next few years with the help of newly funded research. However, right now that information is limited.2

The research that has been done begins to explain some of the risk factors that increase the likelihood of someone developing a binge eating disorder at some point, including:2,5

  • Genetics: If you have a family member who has had binge eating disorder, then you are more likely to experience it as well.
  • Style of parenting: Children who grow up in homes where parents were not involved or affectionate but were highly critical of their children’s weight are more likely to struggle with binge eating.
  • Social: People who have been bullied, teased, or discriminated against because of their weight are more at risk of binge eating disorder.
  • Eating patterns: Those who practice dieting, irregular eating, or restrictive eating patterns are more likely to have a binge eating disorder.
  • Mental health: Anyone who deals with a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, or substance abuse disorder is more likely to engage in binge eating.
  • Trauma: Those who have experienced sexual, physical, emotional abuse, or neglect, or any other significant trauma are more likely to have a binge eating disorder at some point in their life.

If you identify with many or all of the above risk factors, it does not necessarily mean that you will suffer from a binge eating disorder.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, so if you do not identify with any of the above risk factors, that does not mean that you will not ever suffer from a binge eating disorder. Likewise, if you identify with many or all of the above risk factors, it does not necessarily mean that you will suffer from a binge eating disorder at some point in your life. Since the causes of binge eating disorders are not fully understood, just like any other mental health issue, binge eating is a very personal experience.

Signs and Symptoms

According the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which is used by clinicians to diagnose and treat mental health disorders, a binge eating disorder involves recurring episodes of binge eating that are characterized by:1

  • Consuming an amount of food that is abnormally large for the average person.
  • Consuming that food in a very short time, usually a period of 2 hours or less.
  • A sense of loss of control over eating while excessively consuming the food.

Loss of control, while an easy enough concept to understand, is much more specific as it relates to a binge eating disorder episode.1 Loss of control is defined by the DSM-5 as having at least 3 of the following 5 symptoms:1

  • Consuming food faster than normal
  • Consuming food until you are uncomfortably full
  • Consuming large amounts of food even when you are not hungry
  • Isolating yourself from other people when consuming food out of embarrassment
  • Feeling depressed, guilty, or disgusted after binge eating

This binge eating behavior must happen at least once per week over a period of at least 3 months and cause significant distress to the person engaging in the binge eating behavior to be considered a diagnosable condition.1

In addition to the clinical signs and symptoms of a binge eating disorder, binge eating disorder can cause extreme physical damage the longer a person engages in the behavior.5 This damage can range from mild and uncomfortable to severe and life-threatening.5 Some of the known medical complications that result from prolonged binge eating include:5

  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • High cholesterol.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Joint and muscle pains.
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Osteoarthritis.
  • Gallbladder disease.
  • Heart disease.
  • Certain types of cancer.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome.

While binge eating disorder shares most of its characteristics with bulimia, it is different in that people who are binge eating do not behave in ways to compensate for their binge eating episodes.1 Compensatory behavior would be anything that is meant to offset the potential weight gain from the binge eating episodes.1 Whereas a person who has bulimia may abuse laxatives or make themselves vomit in order to get rid of part of the caloric load from a binge, people with binge eating disorder will not do this on a regular basis.1 This is not to say that someone with binge eating disorder will never vomit or use laxatives after a binge eating episode; it just won’t happen on a regular basis like it would for someone with bulimia.1

Treatment Options

It is estimated that anywhere from 10-50% of people who have an eating disorder and do not seek treatment will relapse at some point in their lifetime.6 This fact, combined with the damaging psychological and physical effects of binge eating disorders, makes treatment and aftercare an essential part of recovering from the disease. If you’re seeking help for binge eating, you have many options available to you, including:

  • Inpatient Treatment: For binge eating, inpatient treatment may begin at a medical center if there are medical issues that need to be stabilized, or at a residential mental health treatment center. Medical inpatient focuses only on stabilizing medical complications, while residential mental health can help you begin to resolve the binge eating behaviors and any mental health issues that may be driving the disorder. Residential treatment typically provides group, individual, family, nutritional, and recreational therapy.
  • Partial Hospitalization (PHP)/Intensive Outpatient (IOP): PHP and IOP are intensive group therapy provided on an outpatient basis. PHP is a full-day program with medication management provided, while IOP is typically a half day without medication management.
  • Individual Therapy: When dealing with binge eating, it is important to find someone who is trained and experienced in counseling people with eating disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for eating disorders is the modality that has been proven most effective; it helps you understand what is driving the eating disorder, what negative patterns, thoughts, and triggers are associated with the eating disorder, and how to prevent a relapse.7
  • Psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner (NP): Many people recovering from eating disorders suffer from depression, anxiety-related disorders, and substance abuse.2,5 Psychiatric professionals, either at the doctorate or NP level, can help you with these common psychiatric symptoms. This is important because untreated anxiety or depression can drive a relapse to an eating disorder or substance use and can interfere with your ability to follow an aftercare plan. The use of psychiatric medications does not always have to be permanent, but having them as part of your arsenal while in the acute stages of recovery can help.
  • Group Therapy: Group therapy is an important piece of inpatient, outpatient, and aftercare treatment. Group therapy can help you to slowly build interpersonal trust, which can eventually extend beyond the group setting. Group therapy also provides an environment where others understand what you are dealing with and will not judge you, but support you during your recovery. The National Eating Disorder Association can provide more information about support groups in your area.
  • Nutritionist: Learning healthy nutrition is crucial to someone recovering from an eating disorder. Often, there are inaccurate thoughts and feelings around food that must first be confronted and dealt with in therapy so you can establish a healthy perspective on and relationship with food. A nutritionist can help you slowly incorporate nutrient-dense foods into your diet and help you to experiment with food in ways that you may not be able to on your own.


Physical Effects of Binge Eating Disorder

January 31, 2019

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge Eating Disorder is an eating disorder that is denoted by excessive food intake, often driven by a need to soothe negative emotions. Those suffering from binge eating disorder (BED) repeatedly and uncontrollably eat extreme amounts of food, often resulting in obesity. Following episodes of bingeing, those with BED usually experience feelings of guilt, shame, or distress. In an attempt to regain control, individuals may begin to restrict food or try restrictive dieting, which often ends in another episode of bingeing, making weight loss challenging. This cycle of bingeing and restricting is challenging to break without professional treatment.

Binge eating disorder was added to the DSM-5 in 2013. According to the DSM-5, the key diagnostic features of binge eating disorder that must be met are:

  1. Recurrent episodes of bingeing or eating an amount of food larger than most people would eat in a similar time frame under similar circumstances. This episode must be accompanied by a feeling of a loss of control over eating.
  2. Binge eating episodes include three or more of the following:
    1. Eating quicker than usual.
    2. Eating to a point of discomfort.
    3. Eating while not hungry.
    4. Eating alone due to embarrassment of the amount of food being consumed.
    5. Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after eating.
    6. Distress about binging.
    7. Bingeing at least once a week for three months (or more).
    8. An absence of compensatory behaviors (as seen in Bulimia and Anorexia, such as running, purging, etc.).

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Warning signs of binge eating disorder may include:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a small amount of time
  • Feeling out of control of your eating
  • Eating despite a lack of appetite
  • Eating rapidly
  • Eating to the point of discomfort or feeling ill
  • Eating alone or in secret
  • Feeling depressed, guilty, disgusted, ashamed, or sad after eating or about your eating habits
  • Frequently dieting or restricting with no success and often without weight loss

Physical Effects of Binge Eating

Binge eating is cyclical, rotating from binge eating episodes to restrictive dieting that ultimately leads an individual back to bingeing. Binge eating is the most common type of eating disorder in the United States, despite being lesser known than anorexia and bulimia. Although binge eating lacks the compensatory behaviors that characterize other eating disorders, it is equally as serious. Binge eating is not a choice, a phase, or a lack of willpower. Binge eating can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or any other demographic categorization. It is a complex, serious mental illness that requires professional treatment. While those struggling with binge eating are often at a higher weight than average, this is not always the case. The more frequent bingeing episodes are, the more severe the illness becomes. As bingeing increases, individuals may begin to experience physical symptoms that negatively impact their life. While these symptoms are severe, if treated promptly, they can be reversed.

Dermatological Effects

It’s common for individuals suffering from binge eating disorder to consume copious amounts of sweets and non-nutritious foods. The restrictive dieting following a binge may also contribute to an individual not meeting their body’s nutritional needs. This low caloric intake (from dieting) and lack of nutrient consumption (from both dieting and bingeing) can cause dry skin and may cause hair to become brittle and fall out. Binge eating, specifically sweets and dairy products, may also lead to an increase in facial acne.

Gastrointestinal Effects

Those who engage in frequent bingeing episodes commonly experience a variety of gastrointestinal problems. Following a bingeing episode, individuals may feel uncomfortably full and/or sick to their stomach. They may experience bloating, abdominal pain, and nausea. Binge eating overloads a person’s system with a flood of calories, sugar, fat and/or carbs, which results in the body using a large amount of energy to digest the food, which may result in low energy, sleepiness, and sluggishness.

Eating large amounts of food in a short period of time also may result in acid reflux, cramping, heartburn, and diarrhea. Repeated consumption of large amounts of food may cause long-term effects, including “gastric dilation and gastric perforation,” where the stomach may become so full that it can rupture (Fukudo, Sato, 2015). Binge eating may also cause constipation and irritable bowel syndrome, where people experience general, chronic stomach discomfort, diarrhea, and constipation.

Endocrine System Effects

Binge eating disorder may cause individuals to have hypertension (high blood pressure). Common risk factors of high blood pressure include being overweight and having diabetes, conditions which are sometimes seen in those suffering from binge eating—although it is important to note not all individuals struggling with binge eating live in larger bodies.

The exact physical effects of binge eating disorder are still somewhat unknown, as eating disorder studies and research often focus specifically on anorexia and bulimia. That being said, recent research is geared more towards understanding the effects of binge eating disorder and why certain individuals are prone to developing this type of eating disorder. Like every other eating disorder, it is essential that those suffering from binge eating get help and treatment as early as possible. Treatment will depend on the severity of the eating disorder, but often necessitates a therapist and a dietitian to get at the root causes of the client’s binge eating.

Recovery is Possible

Eating disorders are treatable. With proper care, individuals can experience full recovery and return to a normal life. If you or a loved one are struggling with disordered eating, reach out to The Emily Program at 1-888-364-5977 or start the process online.

Tags: Binge Eating Disorder, Eating Disorders, ED Q&A, For Providers, Nutrition, Physical Health, Research

Depression and Binge Eating

Many people with binge eating disorder suffer from depression. They also have higher levels of anxiety than normal-weight or obese people without BED, and higher levels of both current and lifetime major depression.1

Behavioral problems are also common among people with binge eating disorder. They may:

  • Abuse alcohol or other drugs.
  • Act impulsively.
  • Feel out of control.
  • Feel disconnected from their community.4

Additionally, personality disorders, including bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, are associated with BED.4

Binge Eating Disorder Facts and Statistics

  • BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States.1,6
  • People from all cultures and demographics are affected by BED.1
  • BED affects 3.5% of adult women and 2% of adult men.8
  • About 60% of people who suffer from BED are women.1
  • BED affects 2.3% of adolescent females and 0.8% of males.8
  • For women, BED typically starts between the ages of 18 and 29.6
  • For men, BED typically starts between the ages of 45 and 59.6
  • As many as 30% of women enrolled in weight management programs may have BED.7

Getting Help for Binge Eating Disorder

If you are suffering from binge eating disorder, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people suffer from eating disorders and recover.

We can help you find a binge eating disorder treatment program that specializes in treating people just like you. Call our helpline at 1-888-344-8837 to speak with a treatment advisor today. We are always available to answer your questions and discuss your options.

Read next: Binge Eating Disorder Treatment Program Options

. National Eating Disorders Association. Binge eating disorder.

. Mayo Clinic. (2016). Binge eating disorder.

. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health. (2012). Binge eating disorder fact sheet.

. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2016). Definition and facts for binge eating disorder.

. De Zwaan, M. (2001). Binge eating disorder and obesity. International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders, 25.

What Happens to Your Body During Cyclic Overeating

Just one piece, you think.

It’s been a long day, and you’re craving chocolate. And you know there’s a bag of dark chocolate waiting in the pantry for you. So you decide to eat just one to take the edge off of your hectic day.

But 15 minutes later, you’re sitting in front of the TV with an empty bag and a full stomach. You needed something salty to balance out the sweet, so you popped open a bag of chips to eat, too.

Sound familiar?

Most people binge occasionally, and it’s nothing to really be ashamed of – food tastes good, and self-discipline isn’t always easy to maintain. While not everyone who binges occasionally has full-fledged binge eating disorder, many people do show signs of food addiction.

Food addiction is characterized by symptoms including loss of control over the consumption of food, continued intake/binging despite negative consequences, and the inability to cut down despite a desire to restrain/refrain. It is a relatively new and somewhat controversial topic because there isn’t conclusive scientific evidence that clearly identifies the addictive properties of foods. The main problem is that food supports life and everyone eats, which prompts many professionals to discount the concept.

Rather than assuming that all foods are addictive, some scientists propose that certain foods are more addictive than others, especially foods rich in fat and/or sugar. These calorie-dense and delicious foods typically are the ones that become self-labeled “bad” foods. This often leads to causing a restriction/avoidance response that may be followed by a binge cycle, which then results in cyclic overeating– which can be classified clinically as an eating disorder.

It is often considered that for both mental and hormonal health, overeating may have its benefits; however, if it becomes a cyclic issue, food addiction can damage your metabolism and cause negative changes to your body composition.

Your body composition is the balance of fat and fat-free mass (like muscle and bone)- you need to keep these two variables balanced in order to reduce your risk of various health conditions. This is why important to understand how cyclic overeating can affect your body composition- it can negatively impact both weight and health goals.

Why are people addicted to food?

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so hard to stop eating your favorite snacks, you’re far from alone.

Susceptibility to food addiction is somewhat genetic, but many modern foods are also engineered specifically to make you want more. These “hyperpalatable” foods are concocted by flavor chemists in a way so that they surpass the reward properties of traditional foods. In other words, eating a potato chip will release more reward centers in the brain than eating a baked potato.

Salty, fatty and sugary foods tend to be the most addictive types of foods. In fact, though the scientific evidence isn’t quite conclusive in humans, sugar is thought to be as addictive as many drugs. And it doesn’t help that food addiction involves the same areas and many of the same chemicals in the brain as drug addiction does.

But it’s not just that modern foods are engineered to taste good: To binge is to be human. We are hardwired to love the taste of fat, salt, and sugar because those nutrients were calorie-dense and provided energy storage that aided in survival before we had food as we know it today.

High-calorie, fatty foods gave our ancestors the energy reserves needed to survive famines. Salt increases water retention, which helped them stave off dehydration. And our preference for sugar helped lead us to nutritious fruits and berries.

Humans’ natural preferences for these flavors and textures were once essential for survival. But in a world where palatable foods are readily available and often inexpensive, those preferences can become unbeatable cravings. Often, we eat food just because it’s there and it tastes oh so good.

Unfortunately, humans haven’t quite figured out how to deal with the excesses of modern living. And this is why we can’t count on our instincts alone to maintain a healthy body weight—it requires constant and conscious effort.

A healthy, balanced body composition requires a balance in the intake of both micro and macronutrients. When we overeat, we expose ourselves to the risk of various diseases due to excess body fat and changes in our hormones.

What happens to the body when you overeat?

Every meal you eat – regardless of macronutrient composition – triggers dopamine release. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical associated with feelings of happiness and reward. However, meals higher in fat and sugar tend to trigger larger releases of the hormone.

When you overeat, especially those kinds of foods, you probably tend to feel fantastic… at first. When the rush of a binge wears off, most people experience an overwhelming and uncomfortable fullness, accompanied by a side of guilt or shame.

In addition to those unfavorable emotional effects, some pretty unfavorable things are going on inside your body, too.

First, binge eating is usually characterized by fast and uncontrolled eating, which can be detrimental to your metabolism and your heart health. This uncontrolled food intake is associated with obesity and future susceptibility to metabolic syndrome, a condition that often leads to cardiovascular disease.

Second, with binge eating, your pancreas goes into overdrive, releasing larger-than-normal amounts of insulin. This can lead to insulin resistance which, in the long-term, can be harmful to your metabolism. When you suffer from insulin resistance, your cells don’t absorb nutrients as they should and you end up prone to a host of conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more.

After a binge, your system is overloaded with a rush of calories, sugar, and fat. In addition to causing hormone and energy levels to fluctuate, this significant excess of calories promotes fat storage, inflammation, and digestive discomfort (think bloating and constipation).

These nearly instant consequences aren’t exactly favorable, but the outlook gets even worse if overeating is consistent. Cyclic binging results in hard-to-reverse changes to metabolism. Hunger and fullness cues are thrown off, making one think they’re hungry when you’re not and causing you to overeat further.

Dopamine becomes down-regulated, meaning you need more food to feel the same amount of pleasure as, say, a few months ago. Changes in leptin levels promote further fat storage. Your gastric capacity can increase, which means you may need more food to feel full.

Additionally, you can disrupt your circadian rhythm and induce depression: two factors that make it a lot easier to want to stay in bed all day, avoid exercise, and eat even more junk food.

You can probably gather how all of these consequences combined can drastically alter your body composition for the worse. If prolonged, cyclic overeating can cause negative changes to body composition such as increased fat mass- this leads to an increased risk for the development of long-term health and disease risks.

Why do people binge eat?

It’s no surprise that a common and powerful trigger of binge eating is restrictive dieting.

This type of selective diet is a feasible weight-loss method in the short-term because such a controlled program of calorie intake makes it easier to prevent overeating. The problem is that extreme restriction is not sustainable. If you’re like most people, you can only say “no” to your favorite foods for so long.

Though common, restrictive dieting isn’t the only reason people binge. Many people use food as an emotional crutch, overeating when they have high-stress levels, are bored, sad, or excessively tired. Our brains and bodies are already conditioned to crave addictive foods. When we want to get our minds off of something, cravings can become overpowering.

You might think that being addicted to food isn’t the worst thing: At least you aren’t addicted to drugs, right? While that’s a valid justification, food addiction is still an addiction and ridding yourself of addictive behavior toward any substance – even food – will improve your quality of life all around. Overcoming food addiction comes with physical health benefits in addition to an improved mental health state, namely reduced risk to diseases and improved body composition.

Recognizing that you have addictive behaviors and thoughts about food is the first step in the right direction. Wanting to change your diet for the better is a good thing for both mind and body.

How to avoid binges and overcome food addiction

Fortunately, there’s a better way to eat healthy than confining yourself to a short list of “good” foods. Instead, you can occasionally eat all the foods you like- as long as you are balancing your diet and regulating portions. This is a great way to control bingeing: If you never feel deprived of foods you like, even sugary treats, you’re less likely to develop an uncontrollable desire to obtain those rewards to the brain that these foods can provide.

If that method doesn’t work for you, you can actually train your taste buds to like whole, natural foods as much as they like processed ones. It’s a sad truth that most of us are desensitized to the sweetness of fruit due to excessive amounts of dietary sugar, but it can be undone.

Another tactic is “crowding out” – instead of focusing on what you can’t have, focus on eating enough healthy foods that you don’t even have space for binge-worthy ones. Remember that it’s often the volume our stomachs want, not the calories. If you fill up on meals chock-full of nutrient-dense fruits and veggies, you’ll be way less likely to binge later on.

Some scientists suggest quitting junk food cold-turkey, but for many people, that method just increases the risk of the restrict-binge cycle.

You should take the time to identify trigger foods: those “can’t-have-just-one” foods. For many people, trigger foods come bagged or boxed and are easily over-eaten because they pack a lot of calories into just a few handfuls. Any product that causes you to feel a loss of control while eating – no matter how slight the feeling is – is a trigger food.

Food journaling can help you identify triggers. Try keeping a meal (and snack) log for a few days and write down how you feel after eating each meal or snack. It can be as simple as one word. For example, writing “sluggish” a few minutes after eating a chocolate bar as your afternoon snack. See that enough times, maybe you’ll realize the reward that you get when eating the chocolate isn’t worth the feeling you get afterward.

Meal prepping also helps exponentially because it results in less decision-making for you. Plus, you probably won’t want to waste the food you spent time, money and effort to prepare.

Different methods work for different people, so spend some time experimenting to find the best tactics for you.

Remember, binge eating is something that is controlled by your brain. Creating healthy eating habits and replacing some of these “rewarding” behaviors can help you overcome the binge eating process.

Addictive food doesn’t have to rule you (or your body composition)

Understanding the changes that happen to your body when you overeat is helpful for making healthier decisions. Food addiction and compulsive overeating lead to a whole host of problems, both mental and physical, that can permanently alter your health habits.

Weight gain, changes to your metabolism, hormonal fluctuations, and changes in the size of your organs are all effects of cyclic overeating that can lead to an unfavorable body composition and long-term health risk.

It’s easy to point fingers at big-name manufacturers, but before people realized what processed foods were doing to our health, it was all well-intentioned business – make better food, make more sales. Now that we know the consequences, however, many brands are changing their practices and procedures to put out healthier products.

Being aware of these healthier food products and paying attention to what you eat can help you overcome addictive behaviors toward food. Identifying trigger foods and emotional factors – such as stressful day at work or a fight with your significant other – can also help you overcome the urge to binge.

Remember that what works for one won’t always work for another. Some people find success in restricting and even eliminating trigger foods from their homes completely, while others can learn to enjoy them as an occasional treat by finding activities they enjoy to take the place of binging. For example, next time you feel the urge to finish a sleeve of Oreos, go outside and take a walk. On your walk, think about all the possible reasons why you might want those cookies.

In time, you’ll come to some realizations and conclusions about your food behavioral choices.


Amanda Capritto is a certified personal trainer and health coach who writes about nutrition, fitness and healthcare. A journalism alumna of Louisiana State University, Amanda spends her free time adventuring outdoors, hitting the gym, and encouraging people to live balanced, healthy lifestyles.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *