Binge Eating Disorder

Understanding Binge Eating Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

We know how terrifying and lonely it can be to struggle with an eating disorder. You may feel overlooked, misunderstood, or lost about where to start when searching for support. You may even be confused about what an eating disorder is, or what kind of disorder you are personally facing. 

To help answer some of these questions, we have created informational pages that break down different types of eating disorders while answering common questions that come up at the beginning of the recovery process. Below you will find a wide variety of information on the eating disorder, binge eating disorder. 

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder that affects three times the number of people diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia combined. It is characterized by episodes of binge eating that result in feelings of significant distress. 

If you are struggling with binge eating disorder, you may feel out of control along with intense feelings of shame, disgust, and low self-esteem that leave you unable to fully engage in your life. This eating disorder can also cause you to be isolated from friends and family, making you feel alone in your suffering.   

You may have tried various methods to lose weight as a way to manage the dissatisfaction you have about the way you look and feel. But dieting only further strengthens the binge cycle until you feel trapped by defeat and self-loathing. 

People with binge eating disorder are often misunderstood by healthcare professionals and recommended treatment that doesn’t address the underlying cause of their symptoms. This is why finding a practice that specializes in eating disorders, such as Hilltop Behavioral Health, is so crucial for your recovery. 

In addition, binge eating disorder commonly co-occurs with other mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar, or depression. Having a treatment plan specific to you and your situation can lead to full, and lasting recovery. 

Clinical Definition of Binge Eating Disorder

According to the DSM, the clinical definition of binge eating disorder involves the following diagnostic criteria: 

  • Recurring binge eating episodes. For an episode to be considered a binge, it must have both of the following characteristics:
    • Eating a quantity of food that is more than what is considered normal within a two-hour window. 
    • Feeling you cannot stop or control how much or what you are eating during the episode.  
  • Binge eating episodes include three or more of the following characteristics:
    • Eating significantly faster than normal.
    • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
    • Eating large amounts of food when not psychically hungry. 
    • Eating alone due to embarrassment about how much one is consuming. 
    • Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after the binge eating episode. 
  • There is marked distress regarding binge eating episodes.
  • Binge eating occurs, on average, once a week for three months. 
  • The episodes are not associated with the recurrent inappropriate compensatory behaviors, such as purging.
  • The binge eating does not happen during an occurrence of bulimia or anorexia nervosa. 

Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Warning Signs

The warning signs of binge eating disorder vary depending on the individual struggling. However, if you are concerned about your loved one, here are some more common signs you can look out for:  


  • Avoids eating around other people or in public places due to embarrassment 
  • Finding food in strange places, such as hidden under the bed, buried in a laundry bin, or tucked away in dresser drawers
  • Noticing large quantities of food missing from the pantry and/or refrigerator 
  • Large receipts from grocery stores, restaurants, or convenience stores 
  • Disruptions to normal eating habits, such as eating throughout the day, having no planned mealtimes, skipping meals, or taking small portions at meals 
  • Finding wrappers and containers in trash bins 
  • Fluctuations in weight, both up and down 

Emotional Signs 

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Isolating from activities the person previously enjoyed 
  • Becoming more isolated or secretive about plans and schedules 
  • Decreased self-esteem 
  • Negative self-talk

Physical Symptoms

Here are some more common physical symptoms reported by people struggling with binge eating disorder: 

  • Troubles concentrating 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Bloating 
  • Acid reflux 
  • Intestinal irritation and distress 
  • Increased and chronic fatigue
  • Weight fluctuations 
  • Diabetes
  • Heart problems 

What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?

f you or a loved one is struggling with binge eating, it is natural to wonder about what caused this mental health condition to develop. We wish the answer to this question was simpler. But, after years of training, research, and working with clients, we know that eating disorders develop due to a combination of factors.  

The risk factors could include but aren’t limited to:  


  • Family history of an eating disorder or, more specifically, binge eating disorder
  • Family history of mental illness or substance use
  • Diagnosis of ADHD
  • Struggles with executive functioning 
  • Natural sensitivity to reward-systems 
  • Diabetes diagnosis, either in childhood or as an adult 


  • Prior history of mental illness
  • History of trauma 
  • Personal history of food insecurity 
  • Negative body image 
  • Low self-esteem

Behavioral and/or Social 

  • History of dieting is strongly associated with an increased risk of developing binge eating disorder
  • Teasing and bullying due to weight 

Who Develops Binge Eating Disorder?

It’s important to first note that bulimia doesn’t affect just one type of person, nor can the disorder be seen by looking at a person. Those who struggle with bulimia can be: 

  • Any age
  • Any shape
  • Any gender identity or expression 
  • Any ethnicity
  • Any religion
  • Any race
  • Disabled or abled 
  • Neurodivergent or neurotypical 

However, below are some specific statistics regarding certain populations that are at a higher risk of developing this disorder: 

  • Among the adult population in the US, about 1.6% of females and 0.8% of males struggle with binge eating disorder.  
  • The median age of onset for bulimia is 21 years old. 
  • 78% of individuals with binge eating disorder meet criteria for another mental health condition. 
  • About 50% of females struggling with binge eating disorder seek help, but only 28% of males seek treatment. 
  • Individuals who have experienced food insecurity are nearly 2 times as likely to develop binge eating disorder than those who haven’t. 

How Loved Ones Can Support

If your loved one is struggling with binge eating disorder, you may be looking for additional ways to support their recovery. At Hilltop, we understand how confusing and lonely it can feel to watch someone you love suffer. We want to remind you that you aren’t alone, and we can give you resources on how to support yourself and your loved one during this time. 

Research shows that loved ones are crucial assets in a person’s eating disorder recovery because you already have an established emotional connection that professionals don’t. This article called Supporting a Child with an Eating Disorder can be a great place to start. It guides caregivers, and loved ones, through simple steps to use when supporting their loved one. 

When to Reach Out for Help?

If you suspect that you may be struggling with binge eating disorder, please reach out for support. Even though this can be an anxiety-provoking step, we don’t want you to suffer alone. Also, early intervention gives us the best chance at helping you reach full recovery. No matter what questions you may have, Hilltop Behavioral Health is willing to support you in the process. 

Hilltop’s Approach

At Hilltop, we want to make sure you don’t feel alone. As one of only a few practices in New Jersey with certified binge eating disorder therapists, we have witnessed incredible changes as patients find healing. 

Our team of professionals are all trained in the treatment of eating disorders and empathize deeply with how challenging the recovery process can seem. We integrate a variety of therapeutic interventions into our sessions to create a supportive plan that addresses your unique situation to help you break the binging cycle.

Treatment will typically include aspects of: 

  • Behavior change
  • Diffusion of self-defeating thoughts   
  • Changing your relationship with food 
  • Challenging your core beliefs, which are oftentimes perpetuating the function of the eating disorder  

Interventions Used

The above-mentioned aspects of treatment are crucial to identifying binge triggers and moving toward lasting change. Treatment plans are created in collaboration with Hilltop’s expert team to include interventions proven to be effective in treating binge eating disorder. These include:  

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders (CBT-E)
  • For younger clients, adolescent & family-based treatment for eating disorders (FBT) 
  • Integrative psychodynamic approaches 
  • Free group therapy 

For individuals with co-occurring trauma: 

  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) 
  • Safe and sound interventions (SSP)
  • Somatic resilience therapy


We work with a spectrum of eating disorder severities. However, due to the nature of eating disorders, untreated binge eating disorder can lead to dangerous medical and psychological complications, which can result in unwanted hospital stays. Our team of professionals works hard to prevent this by attempting to stabilize a situation before it leads to a dangerous spot. 

We want to work with you to avoid as much unnecessary pain as possible. However, if we think your safety is in danger we may have to refer to a high level of care but know that these moments aren’t taken lightly by our team and truly break our hearts. 

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