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St. Paul, MN 55108
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Eating Disorders We Treat

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent binge eating episodes that are accompanied by marked distress, a sense of lack of control, and feelings of self-loathing, disgust, or guilt. These episodes involve eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is objectively larger than what most individuals would eat in a similar period of time, under similar circumstances. Binge eating episodes are associated with eating much more rapidly than normal and/or until uncomfortably full; eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry; and/or eating alone due to embarrassment about the amount one is eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, these binge episodes are not followed by compensatory behaviors.

Call 855-875-5812 to get help with binge eating disorder treatment.

What causes binge eating disorder?

Like all eating disorders, binge eating disorder develops over a period of time as a result of a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to and, despite common misconceptions, families and communities of support are not to blame. In fact, they are often recovery’s strongest ally. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to binge eating disorder that, depending on environmental influences, may or may not be awakened over the course of their lifetime. Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States and the most prevalent eating disorder among males. The mean age of onset for the disorder is 18 years, and the vast majority of individuals who are diagnosed with binge eating disorder also struggle with psychiatric, mood, or anxiety disorders, and/or impulse control and substance use disorders.

Risk factors for binge eating disorder include but are not limited to:

  • Restricting total food intake or intake of certain foods (e.g., dieting, cutting out food groups), leading to changes in physiological and psychological processes and altered hunger and fullness signals
  • Experiencing a traumatic event or major illness or injury
  • Having a genetic predisposition and encountering societal pressures (e.g., weight stigma, appearance-based teasing)
  • Facing a lack of environmental control and persistent stress associated with being a part of a historically marginalized community
Binge Eating Disorder - Symptoms, Causes & Treatments | A daughter hugging her mother from the back - binge eating disorder treatment

What are symptoms of binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is characterized by several symptoms, including:

  • Recurring episodes of eating excessively large amounts of food, often rapidly and to the point of discomfort
  • A feeling of loss of control during these binge eating episodes, like you can’t stop eating or control what or how much you’re eating
  • Eating these large amounts of food when not hungry, or eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by the quantity of food consumed
  • Feelings of distress, shame, or guilt about binge eating
  • No regular use of unhealthy compensatory measures (such as purging) to counter binge eating

Is depression associated with binge eating?

Yes, depression is often associated with binge eating. Many individuals with binge eating disorder experience symptoms of depression, such as feelings of sadness, low self-esteem, and a lack of pleasure in activities they once enjoyed. The relationship between depression and binge eating can be complex and bidirectional, meaning that depression can contribute to the onset or worsening of binge eating, and binge eating can exacerbate symptoms of depression. It’s important for individuals experiencing both depression and binge eating to seek professional help, as treatment needs to address both conditions.

What is compulsive overeating?

Compulsive overeating is a disordered eating behavior that involves eating an excessive amount of food despite feeling full or not feeling hungry at all.

When someone compulsively overeats, it is often motivated by a subconscious desire to soothe difficult emotions or stressors. Though engaging in compulsive eating behaviors may provide some short-term relief, it is ultimately a maladaptive coping mechanism that often brings physical and emotional distress, as well as feelings of shame, anger, anxiety, or fear related to food.

Is compulsive overeating an eating disorder?

Compulsive overeating is not an eating disorder diagnosis but instead, a behavior that is present in several eating disorders, including binge eating disorder (BED), bulimia nervosa, and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED). Those who are affected by bulimia, for example, may engage in binge eating and then purge afterward. Compulsive overeating is usually seen in BED if it isn’t followed by any compensatory behaviors.

A person who struggles with compulsive overeating may eat an overwhelmingly large amount of food in a short period of time, or they may “graze,” eating constantly throughout the day even when they aren’t hungry. Compulsive eating often happens in secret, and the associated preoccupations with food can feel incredibly isolating. Once a person is engaged in compulsive overeating, the initial “high” may settle and the person may notice feelings of self-loathing, disgust, and guilt. Restriction or dieting may follow, setting up a cycle of additional disordered eating behaviors.

People of all body weights and shapes can struggle with compulsive overeating. Many warning signs accompany this disordered eating behavior, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders. Compulsive overeating can present medical complications, including fatigue, digestive issues, hypertension, or hormonal imbalances.

What is the difference between binge eating and compulsive overeating?

Binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating, although closely related, have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is characterized by episodes of consuming large quantities of food in a relatively short period, often accompanied by a feeling of loss of control. Binge eating disorder is a clinically recognized eating disorder, where individuals often experience intense feelings of guilt and distress post-binge.

Compulsive Overeating

On the other hand, compulsive overeating is a broader term that encompasses not only binge eating but also other loss-of-control patterns of disordered eating. It often manifests as a continuous pattern of eating large quantities of food throughout the day, not confined to specific episodes. Unlike binge eating disorder, this kind of impulsive, obsessive behavior is not a clinical eating disorder diagnosis but rather an eating disorder symptom.

Understanding the subtle differences between binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating can guide more targeted and effective treatment strategies, helping individuals navigate their way to recovery with a nuanced approach. Learn more about the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating.

What should you look for if you worry that someone has binge eating disorder?

Being familiar with the signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder can help you champion early intervention and recovery through binge eating disorder treatment. Because of the secretive nature of binge eating disorder, it may be difficult to spot some of the more well-known behavioral symptoms. Watch for excuses for meal absences, avoidance of social settings where food is involved, and comments about feeling after control after eating. Associated disorders, or “comorbidities,” include major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar I and II disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

While many symptoms of BED are internal struggles, be aware of these outward signs:

  • Eating objectively large amounts of food in a short period of time, and/or eating much more rapidly than usual
  • Marked distress after eating
  • Avoiding mealtimes and eating alone or in secret
  • Feelings of lack of control, guilt, shame, self-loathing, or disgust around food or eating

What are the risks of binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder can have extreme medical and physiological consequences. Like all eating disorders, the sooner an individual is connected with comprehensive, specialty care, the better their chances are for healing and resolving any complications of their eating disorder.

The medical complications of binge eating include:

  • Chronic pain including headaches, back, and neck pain
  • Digestive issues including constipation, bloating, and acid reflux
  • Cardiovascular complications including electrolyte imbalances, hypertension, and even heart disease
  • Endocrine issues including hormonal imbalances, irregular menstrual cycles, and liver disease
Binge Eating Disorder - Symptoms, Causes & Treatments | mother and daughter looking at each other smiling

How can you recover from binge eating disorder?

If you or a loved one are struggling with binge eating or compulsive overeating, don’t wait to reach out for help. The earlier binge eating disorder is treated, the better the outcomes tend to be.

At Veritas Collaborative, we work with you to create an individualized care plan, so you or your child with binge eating disorder gets the right treatment at the right time. We offer a full continuum of care, which includes inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP), outpatient, and virtual programs for children, adolescents, and adults. This allows us to provide best-in-class care and support throughout your recovery journey, even as your needs change. Our binge eating disorder treatment programs focus on real-life skills, including hands-on nutrition and culinary experiences that you can take with you for lasting recovery. We encourage family involvement and offer family-based therapy and educational support for children and adolescents.

Do I need binge eating disorder treatment?

Take our eating disorder quiz to see if you need binge eating disorder treatment. Veritas Collaborative created this assessment as a starting point. Don’t know what you’re struggling with? This quiz is a simple way to better understand your relationship with food and your body. The questions have been crafted with care to illuminate and pinpoint the core concerns of those who might benefit from eating disorder treatment. 

Where can I get binge eating disorder treatment?

At Veritas Collaborative, we provide treatment for binge eating disorder in person at our eating disorder treatment centers in the southeastern United States and virtually from anywhere online.

How can I learn more about binge eating disorder treatment?

Our eating disorder treatment specialists recommend you check out these books to deepen your understanding of binge eating disorder and binge eating disorder treatment:

  • Beyond a Shadow of a Diet: The Comprehensive Guide to Treating Binge Eating Disorder, Compulsive Eating, and Emotional Overeating
    — By Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel
  • Binge Control: A Compact Recovery Guide
    — By Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, FAED
  • Overcoming Binge Eating, 2nd Edition: The Proven Program to Learn Why You Binge and How You Can Stop
    — By Christopher G. Fairburn
  • When Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder: Practical Strategies to Help Your Teen Recover from Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating
    — By Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD
  • Talking to Eating Disorders: Simple Ways to Support Someone With Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, or Body Image Issues
    — By Jeanne Albronda Heaton, PhD, and Claudia J. Strauss

You can also contact Veritas Collaborative directly–we’re here to provide support, guidance, and education about our binge eating disorder treatment services.

Key Takeaways

  • Binge eating disorder is a type of eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, accompanied by feelings of loss of control and distress.
  • Binge eating disorder affects people of all ages, genders, backgrounds, and body weights, and can lead to physical, mental, emotional, and social consequences.
  • Binge eating disorder is often accompanied by co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.
  • Treatment for binge eating disorder typically involves a combination of therapy, medical and psychiatric care, and therapeutic-supported meals and snacks.
  • With appropriate binge eating disorder treatment and support at an eating disorder treatment center, recovery is possible, and individuals can learn to develop a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

Updated April 2024

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