Causes & Symptoms
Causes of Binge Eating Disorder
As with other eating disorders, there is no one definitive cause of Binge Eating Disorder. However, there are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing Binge Eating Disorder:
- Genetic vulnerability, illustrated by family history or Binge Eating Disorders, or other eating, mental health, or substance misuse disorders.
- Biological irregularities, such as hormonal abnormalities or genetic mutations.
- Experience of judgemental comments about one’s body, weight, or eating behaviours.
- Body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and difficulty coping with feelings.
- Experience of trauma, including abuse.
- Experience of an emotionally invalidating environment (leading to distrust of one’s own emotions).
Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms
Binge Eating Disorder is the experience of reoccurring episodes of binge eating with an associated loss of control. Binge eating is defined as: eating in a discrete period of time (e.g. within two hours) a significantly large amount of food than what would be typical to eat in a similar circumstance. This is associated with a feeling of loss of control over eating in this period (e.g. feeling like they cannot stop what or how much they are eating).
These binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:
- Eating more rapidly than usual.
- Eating until uncomfortably full.
- Eating large amounts of food despite not physically feeling hungry.
- Feeling disgusted at oneself, depressed or highly guilty following the episode.
- Eating alone due to feelings of embarrassment around how much one is eating.
In Binge Eating Disorder, binge eating occurs on average at least once a week for three months, and this is accompanied by marked distress. It is not associated with any compensatory behaviours in order to control one’s weight and shape. Binge Eating Disorder occurs in people who are normal-weight, overweight and obese. Binge Eating Disorder is distinct from obesity.
Other associated symptoms include:
- Negative mood, interpersonal stressors and negative judgements surrounding weight, shape, and food triggering bingeing.
- Using food as a coping mechanism.
- Seeing food as the only solution to difficulties.
- Hoarding of food (to eat secretly at a later time).
- Lack of sensation or feelings of numbness during binges.
- Feeling of loss of control during binges.
- Never feeling satisfied, no matter the amount of food consumed.
- Physical symptoms associated with a high body weight (e.g. Cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Muscle and/or joint pain, Gastrointestinal difficulties).
- Sleeping difficulties (e.g. insomnia or sleep apnoea).
- Depression and/or anxiety.
Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
If you are worrying that a friend or loved one is experiencing Binge Eating Disorder, there are signs you can look out for. These do not guarantee your loved one has Binge Eating Disorder, but can be indicative:
- Eating a lot of food very quickly.
- Trying to hide how much they are eating.
- Storing up supplies of food.
- Gaining weight – though this doesn't happen to everyone with binge eating disorder.
If you feel these may apply to your friend or loved one, it is always best to talk to them about it in a non-confrontational, non-judgmental manner and support and encourage them in getting the help that they need, making sure you are there for them emotionally throughout their journey to recovery. Try to educate yourself about eating disorders before approaching the topic with your loved one to understand better what they may be going through. Talk somewhere private and comfortable, at a time of low distress (i.e. not directly before or after a meal).
Don’t wait too long to approach the subject with them, as the earlier they get help, the better their chances of recovery. However, you must aim to not be too pushy with how you say this, as saying something along the lines of “you need to get help now” can feel harsh and blunt. Aim for something softer but still motivational, such as “I’ll be here to support you in going to get help when you’re ready to do so”.