Binge Eating Disorder Causes & Effects

While overeating every now and then may not be harmful, people with binge-eating disorder have extreme difficulty stopping themselves from eating large quantities of food on a regular basis. Their difficulties with stopping themselves from eating are not a matter of willpower, but are instead more akin to an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Unlike with bulimia, people with binge-eating disorder do not feel compelled to vomit or use laxatives to rid their bodies of the extra calories they have consumed. Although binge-eating disorder can have profound and dangerous negative effects in a person’s life, when treatment for the symptoms of the disorder is sought, the potential for further consequences can often be managed.

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Statistics

In a given year, slightly over 1 percent of people are diagnosed with binge-eating disorder in the United States. Over the course of their lives, slightly less than 3 percent of people will struggle with a binge-eating disorder, with 3.5 percent of females and 2 percent of males being diagnosed. Unfortunately, only about 44 percent of individuals diagnosed with binge-eating disorder receive treatment over the course of their lives.

Causes and Risk Factors for Binge-Eating Disorder

Although the causes of binge-eating disorder are not fully understood, research suggests that a number of genetic and environmental factors come into play, including the following:

Genetic: As with most mental health conditions, family history has an influence on who is more likely to develop binge-eating disorder. People with family members who have eating disorders are more likely themselves to develop eating disorders.

Environmental: Research on epigenetics suggests that environmental factors can “switch on” certain genes. While the precise interaction of environment and genetics is still a topic of research, experts have found that certain environmental factors do correlate with an increased chance of developing an eating disorder. People who grew up in families with parents who encouraged extreme dieting or unhealthy eating habits are more likely to develop binge-eating disorder, as are those who were teased about their weight.

Risk Factors:

  • Having poor self-esteem
  • Being dissatisfied with one’s own skills and/or accomplishments
  • Personal history of extreme dieting
  • Age, specifically being in one’s late teens or early 20s
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history mental illness

Signs and Symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder

The signs and symptoms of binge-eating disorder are different for every individual and depend on one’s own history and personality. However, there are some similarities in how different people experience the disorder. These include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Excessive desire to eat, even after one feels full
  • Eating a substantial amount of food over a short period of time
  • Eating alone or eating in secret
  • Hiding one’s eating
  • Dieting frequently and often unsuccessfully
  • No long participating in things that were once enjoyed
  • Hindered academic or occupational functioning

Physical symptoms:

  • Obesity
  • Obesity-related health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and breathing problems

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Distraction or poor attention from excessive focus on food
  • Intrusive thoughts about one’s eating habits

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Poor self-esteem
  • Negative self-image
  • Guilt or shame
  • Suicidal thoughts
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder has the potential to seriously harm those diagnosed with it. The following are some possible consequences if the disorder is not treated:

  • Obesity and developing obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes and joint problems
  • Poor functioning at work or school
  • Loss of job or expulsion from school
  • Strained or broken relationships
  • Development of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

People who suffer from binge-eating disorder often struggle with other co-occurring mental health disorders, including the following:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
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