What Are the Causes of Binge Eating?

causes of binge eating

Are you unhappy with your body?

Do you feel better after you eat but then feel worse?

Do you find yourself eating when you’re not even hungry?

Do you eat more than you should in one sitting?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be binge eating.

While binging eating isn’t entirely uncommon, it can become a problem if it turns into binge eating disorder. What causes binge eating and what can be done to overcome it?

Keep reading to learn more about this eating disorder and how you can improve your relationship with food.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating itself isn’t a disorder. We’ve all eaten too much in one sitting once or twice. But when binge eating becomes a problem, you may have binge eating disorder (BED).

If you have this disorder, you will repeatedly take in large amounts of food in just a short period of time.

Binge eating disorder is about more than just food alone. In fact, binge eating disorder is recognized as a psychiatric disorder because it often develops secondary to a psychological condition or emotional issue. Binges are accompanied by negative feelings and psychological distress.

If you have binge eating disorder, you’ll often consume a large amount of food in a short time, even if you aren’t feeling hungry. Emotional stress or attempting to destress plays a significant role in binge eating disorder. Stress is a common trigger for binge eating.

A diagnosis of binge eating disorder requires at least three of these symptoms:

  • Eating more quickly than normal
  • Eating past the point of feeling full
  • Eating a lot when you’re not hungry
  • Eating alone because you are embarrassed or ashamed
  • Feeling guilty or disgusted about your eating habits

When you have binge eating disorder, it’s common to feel unhappy and distressed about your overeating and your body. This can cause a negative cycle of feeling bad and binge eating that can be hard to escape.

Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

We don’t have a strong understanding of what causes binge eating disorder, but researchers have identified some risk factors that commonly contribute to the development of the disorder. Episodes of binge eating are often triggered by emotional stress, negative feelings about your body, boredom, and the availability of food.

The causes of binge eating could include a number of factors including genetics, environment, social influences, and psychological factors. Let’s take a look at some of these factors in closer detail.


Binge eating disorder is more common in women than in men. The reason for this is not fully known but is believed to be caused by biological factors. It’s worth noting that binge eating disorder is more common in men than other eating disorders.

The Role of Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced by your brain that plays an important role in binge eating disorder. This chemical makes you feel pleasure and reward. It also contributes to your motivation to eat and even what foods you choose to eat.

Dopamine is part of a built-in reward system that our brains have. We experience a boost in our mood when we do something we enjoy and when we eat. This is true for everyone, even those who do not have an eating disorder.

When you binge eat, dopamine contributes to the feeling of loss of control. This brain chemical affects many aspects of your behavior including mood, concentration, motivation, and learning. It also has an effect on physical body functions like your heart rate, your kidneys, and your movement.

Certain foods, particularly those high in sugar, salt, and fat, give the brain a sudden dopamine boost. This is why it feels good to eat these foods that we know are unhealthy. We experience a sudden and temporary mood boost that leads us to crave these foods.


Research has found that people with binge eating disorder have higher than normal sensitivity to dopamine. Simply seeing or smelling food can cause a dopamine spike. For those with binge eating disorder, this can cause intense cravings.

Premature dopamine release can also contribute to a lack of control when on a food binge. When you have binge eating disorder, this dopamine release can make your brain tell you to eat, even if you’re not hungry.

Research also indicates that binge eating disorder is inherited. So if you have a family history of the disorder, you have an increased risk of developing it yourself.

Binge Eating and Other Mood Disorders

The majority of people who have binge eating disorder also have at least one other psychological disorder. These can include anxiety, depression, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse. These concurrent disorders make things more difficult for those who suffer from binge eating.

Those with one of these other psychological conditions are at an increased risk of developing binge eating disorder.

As we discussed above, binge eating often results in a sudden boost of dopamine. When you have negative feelings from other psychological disorders like depression or anxiety, binge eating can be a way to improve your mood. For many people with binge eating disorder, this mood boost is a welcome break from negative feelings.

At first, when you binge eat, you feel better. The more you eat and the longer you eat, the better you feel. But when the binge is over, the negative feelings come back and are often even worse.

It’s common to experience feelings of guilt and regret after a binge, leading some people to restrict their food intake to compensate for the binge. The restriction only makes things worse and before you know it you’re binging again to get those good feelings back.

This results in a vicious cycle of binge eating and bad feelings and the development of an unhealthy relationship with food.

Emotional Trauma

Another one of the most common causes of binge eating disorder is having experienced emotional trauma. Risk factors include abuse, experience with death, car accidents, and separation from a family member.

If you were bullied for your weight as a child, you have an increased risk of developing binge eating disorder. Stressful life events are a common trigger for binge eating and the development of the disorder.

Changes to Your Brain

Research on binge eating disorder has found that people with the disorder often have changes in the structure of their brain. These changes affect response to food and ability to exercise self-control.

People with binge eating disorder have heightened responses to food and less control when eating.

A History of Binge Eating

Many adults who develop binge eating disorder have a history of binge eating when they were younger. Binge eating during the childhood and teenage years is often the first sign of the development of binge eating disorder. However, it may take years for you to actually develop the disorder and even longer to be properly diagnosed.

Body Size and Image

About half of people with binge eating disorder are obese. Between 25-50% of people seeking to undergo weight loss surgery meet the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder. Problems with your weight and binge eating have a complicated relationship.

Weight problems can be both a cause and a result of binge eating disorder making it challenging to overcome binge eating and lose weight.

Body image also has a role in binge eating. Most people with binge eating disorder have a negative image of their bodies. Dissatisfaction with your body, restrictive dieting, and overeating are all factors that can contribute to the development of binge eating disorder.

Diagnosing Binge Eating Disorder

You might be wondering whether you could have binge eating disorder. It’s important to remember that occasional overeating isn’t enough to diagnose binge eating disorder, even if you experience emotional issues around your relationship with food.

Binge eating disorder most commonly begins when you’re in your late teens or early twenties, but you can develop it at any age. Without treatment, the disorder can last for years. With treatment, you can overcome binge eating disorder and develop a positive and healthy relationship with food.

In order to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder, you must have had at least one food binge each week for at least three months. Binge eating disorder can range in severity from mild to extreme. With a mild disorder, you may binge one to three times per week. With an extreme disorder, you may binge 14 or more times each week.

It’s also important to distinguish binge eating from other eating disorders, particularly bulimia. With binge eating disorder, you don’t take any action to undo a food binge. With bulimia, people may make themselves throw up, take laxatives, or exercise excessively to counteract a binge. With binge eating disorder, no action is taken.

How to Overcome Binge Eating Disorder

Fortunately, binge eating is a treatable condition. Your treatment plan will depend on several factors including the cause and severity of your disorder as well as your personal goals.

Treatment often comes down to targeting the mental health issues that are causing your binge eating. Treatment can be completed one on one, in a group setting, or in a self-help style.

Some people may only require one type of therapy. Others may benefit more from a combination of multiple therapies. Your medical or mental health professional will help you create a treatment customized for your needs.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This type of therapy works to analyze the relationship between your thoughts and feelings and behaviors related to eating.

Your therapist will help you identify the causes of your negative emotions and create a plan to change them. Interventions include goal setting, self-monitoring, developing regular meal habits, reframing thoughts about the self and your weight, and developing healthy habits to control your weight.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

This type of therapy focuses on teaching you to regulate your emotional responses and helps you learn to cope with negative situations in life without turning to food. There are four main areas of focus – mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy

This type of therapy focuses on the idea that binge eating is used as a coping mechanism for unresolved personal issues. These could include social problems, life changes, grief, and conflicts within relationships.

With this form of therapy, you will work to identify the cause of your binge eating and work to overcome it.


Medication is an option for some people who suffer from binge eating disorder.

Medication is not as effective as behavioral therapy but it can help. Drugs typically used to treat depression, epilepsy, and hyperactive disorders have been used to treat binge eating disorder. Medication can also be used to treat the underlying mental health issues associated with binge eating.

Weight Loss Therapy

Weight loss therapy is another behavioral approach that strives to reduce binge eating by improving body image and self-esteem.

With this type of therapy, you will make gradual changes towards a healthy lifestyle including monitoring food intake and exercising. You will gradually lose weight and adopt healthy lifestyle habits, improving your happiness with your body.

Losing weight can reduce the negative health risks associated with binge eating disorder. Developing a healthy relationship with food can help you lose weight and keep it off.

Are You Ready to Stop Binge Eating?

Just as there are many potential causes of binge eating, there are many solutions.

Overcoming binge eating disorder is possible with the right resources. UnCraveRx is a complete medical weight loss program designed to foster a healthy lifestyle. Find an UnCraveRx provider and get started towards better health today.

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