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What Are the Risk Factors for Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder affects adults, teens, and adolescents, though it tends to develop most often in the late teens or early 20s. Across all groups, this condition arises more often than any other eating disorder, including anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Although it’s not as well-known as these other eating disorders, BED is almost as dangerous and often requires specialized eating disorder treatment to heal.

Risk Factors of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder, like other mental health conditions, is not caused by one single factor, but rather a combination of several. These might include:

Negative Body Image

A decreased sense of self-worth can greatly increase the risk of binge eating disorder in adults, teens, and children. Individuals who are worried about their weight, shape, or any other aspect of their physical selves may feel pressured to make a change. Without the ability to cope in a healthy manner, these individuals may turn to disordered thoughts and behaviors.

Low self-esteem is a particularly problematic risk factor as eating disorders can cause people to have a distorted body image. This serves to fuel their condition, making it difficult to reach out for help in starting eating disorder treatment. The treatment process will need to revolve around eliminating those misleading self-perceptions and replace them with positive ones.


Certain gene patterns are thought to be influential in the development of BED. Researchers at Boston University have been able to identify a gene that may predict whether a person is likely to feel urges to overeat or eat beyond a sense of satiety. When people have this gene, called CYFIP2, it’s not a guarantee they will develop BED, but it statistically points to an increased chance of the disorder appearing.

Trauma and PTSD

Binge eating episodes, especially those where fatty or sugary food is eaten in bulk, cause dopamine to be released. Dopamine, which is the brain chemical that affects mood, satisfaction, and pleasure, can lift the mood when released. In many cases of BED, the negative emotions caused by past trauma or PTSD lead a person to look for ways to alleviate the stress. Binge eating episodes, releasing dopamine, serve as a coping mechanism, and may lead to a cycle of PTSD and overeating.

Frequent Dieting Behaviors

Frequent dieting is both a potential cause and sign of binge eating disorder. Engaging in regular dieting behaviors also points to dissatisfaction with body size and shape, contributing to the risks.After the development of binge eating disorder, people may engage in frequent dieting behaviors as a way to compensate for overeating. They may restrict their daily food intake heavily until they have a chance to binge. This vicious cycle can make it very difficult to break away from disordered behaviors and illustrate the need for the individual to acquire help at binge eating disorder treatment centers.

Behavioral and Physical Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

Getting started on eating disorder treatment early is the best way to attain a full recovery. Family and friends should keep an eye out for these indications that their loved one has BED, and seek out options for treatment quickly if they see any:

  • Intense Focus on Food: As disordered thought patterns arise, people with binge eating disorder may feel overwhelmed by thoughts about food. Their intense focus on food may make it difficult to talk about much of anything else. They may obsess about when and what they will eat as an attempt to control the distressing sensations they feel.
  • Changes in Weight: Frequent dieting and binge eating sessions can cause rapid fluctuations in weight. People with binge eating disorder are more often overweight than not, defying the stereotype of people with eating disorders.
  • Food Gone Missing: While engaging in binge eating behaviors, individuals tend to consume a large volume of food in one sitting. Parents or other family should be on the lookout for large amounts of food suddenly gone missing, or lots of wrappers in the trash.
  • Perfectionism and Feeling Loss of Control: As binge eating disorder causes an inability to control food intake, people with the disorder tend to display perfectionism and a need to control other aspects of their lives.When things get out of control, it may result in an attempt to calm those feelings by binge eating, fueling the repetitive cycle of negative emotions followed by disordered behaviors.
  • Avoiding Public Meal Settings: The frequent engagement in fad or crash diets associated with binge eating disorder may cause people to avoid eating meals with their family and friends. They may even avoid eating in public due to a fear of losing control and the shame that arises with overeating.
  • Frequent Talk About Body Image Concerns: People with eating disorders often feel preoccupied with their body image and size. They may frequently make negative comments about their appearance in a serious or joking manner as a way to vent and gain support. They may start to pull away and isolate, however, as the binge eating disorder symptoms worsen.