Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder is a type of eating disorder and therefore categorized as a mental issue. A study at Fairburn and Harrison, 2003, revealed that 80-85% of people suffering from an eating disorder did not show signs of being underweight.

This means that of everyone suffering from an eating disorder, only 20% were anorexic or showed physical signs of being extremely underweight. The rest seemed to be on a normal or even heavier weight. The bottom-line of this finding is that an eating disorder is not often visible. Therefore it is very possible to suffer from Binge Eating Disorder, without being underweight or showing visible signs of the disorder. That is why it makes it so hard to say if someone suffers from binge eating or not.

In fact, studies have shown that every second person has already experienced some form of disordered eating today, and binge eating has landed on the top of the list of disordered eating behaviors that people experience for the most part.

However, Binge Eating Disorder and binge eating are still underestimated by society and even the health industry since you cannot see it on someone’s outward appearance and most people hide it because they feel ashamed of it.

Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

Important to know is that Binge Eating Disorder has no single cause – it results from the interaction of various psychological, biological and psychosocial factors. In this article, we will discuss the most common causes of the eating disorder, however, we need to keep in mind that everyone’s situation and relationship with food is unique and individual, therefore their cause can be unique too.

Most common causes of Binge Eating Disorder

Psychosocial Factors

Psychosocial and social factors play a very important role when it comes to the development of Binge Eating Disorder and eating disorders in general.

Psychosocial and social factors include:

Dieting And The Fitness Industry

Dieting is probably the most common reason why someone develops a binge eating behavior in the first place. For this to understand, we need to understand how our body works.

Dieting and Binge Eating

Our body’s main task is to keep us healthy and alive. In order to achieve this, it does anything that is necessary for us to live.

For this reason, every attempt to restrict calories or to over-exercise in the gym in order to burn calories will threaten our body in its survival mode. This happens since our cavemen brain cannot distinguish between us living under extreme circumstances where we won’t have food available around us for a very long time or us just going on a diet in order to fit into a certain dress. Our body and cavemen brain don’t understand that there’s plenty of food around us. Decreasing calories and restricting food is a sign for our body and brain that we are living on a desert island with no available food around us.

Therefore, our body immediately jumps into a so-called stress-response-mode and prepares for the worst. It slows down our whole metabolism, decreases our muscle mass because muscles burn important calories that are vital for us. Furthermore, our hormones decrease, especially our sex hormones, because our body doesn’t have the energy now to carry a baby.

Besides many other physical and psychological side-effects of dieting, binge eating will be one of the most common and most unpleasant ones. In our body’s attempt to keep us alive, it will make us mentally and physically desire more and more food the longer we stay on a diet.

This is a biologically very normal result of dieting and food restriction. It is not possible to cheat on our body and deprive our body of calories. Our body will always crave more and more food as a result. That is the reason why diets and calorie restriction programs simply don’t work. If they had worked, they would have worked already a very long time ago and the fitness industry would have become poor.

Not Accepting The Own Body

Another very common cause of someone’s developing Binge Eating Disorder is that people are disliking and even hating their body and outward appearance. This, in fact, is not surprising since in today’s world we constantly receive this message of us “not being perfect enough”.

The beauty and fitness industries are focused on telling people, especially women, that they are not beautiful and thin enough but with the help of their products, they will be.

Binge Eating Disorder and Body Acceptance

These negative messages that people are confronted with every single day, make them swim in an ocean of “body-hate” and chasing their whole life a certain number on the scale that they have created in their heads.
To tell the truth, there is no single study out there that shows how someone ought to weigh at which time of their life. However, the fitness and diet industries are pretending to know for some suspect reason.

Media (especially social media)

Media and especially social media such as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and many other social platforms, contribute tremendously to the drastic increase in the development of eating disorders in general that we can see in today’s world.

In a world where people tend to spend more time on their phones than being present in the moment, social media impacts their lives more than people would think.

Binge Eating Disorder and Social Media

The daily consumption of images and videos of perfect bodies, perfect faces, perfect lives, and perfect worlds, makes people unconsciously become very unsatisfied with their own lives, their bodies and with their physical appearance in general.

This is for many people the reason why they start going on a diet or a food restriction program in order to be part of this “ideal” world they see on social media. The result, however, is not a perfect world, it is for many people the development of an eating disorder.

Genetic Factors

It is generally known that genetic factors also play a role when it comes to eating disorders.

Studies have shown that children who grow up in a family where family members struggle or have struggled with eating and their body at some point are 7-12 times more likely to develop eating disorders.

The same is for children that grow up in families where family members go on diets and are very weight and body-focused. These children are also more likely to go on diets and become very weight and body-focused in their adult years which can lead to binge eating behaviors in the long run.

Psychological Factors

Psychological factors also count to the most common causes of someone’s developing Binge Eating Disorder.

Many people binge out on food in order to compensate for their negative emotions. It is a so-called coping mechanism that they have developed to deal with negative feelings and emotions.

Binge eating, therefore, is only a symptom but not the main issue. It is just the surface that covers underlying psychological issues, such as a traumatic life event that someone experienced in their past, sexual abuse, rejection, depression, anxiety, toxic relationships, worries about finances, diseases or a lack of self-esteem and self-acceptance. These are just a few underlying issues, but there can be many more.

It is important to mention that binge eating is a natural coping mechanism of the body to deal with negative feelings and emotions. Negative feelings and emotions make our body jump into a stress-response-mode which threatens our body’s survival mode. As I’ve already mentioned above, our body does anything necessary to keep us healthy and alive. In this case, our body will long for substitutes that help our body in its happiness chemicals production.

Food is a great helper in this case, as it contains important ingredients such as a certain amino-acid called “Tryptophan” that has the ability to help our body in its Serotonin and Dopamine (=happiness chemicals) production.

Therefore, binge eating is not something someone needs to be ashamed of. In fact, binge eating can be a great teacher that shows us, something negative is going on in our life. It is our body’s communication tool with us and with this information that we receive from our body through our binge eating behavior, we are able to set the right actions and look a bit deeper inside of us.

Protective Factors

There are factors that help someone to prevent an eating disorder, especially Binge Eating Disorder.

Embracing those factors can be a very helpful tool for families, parents and those who are already recovered but want to prevent relapses.

Protective factors are:


I hope this article was helpful, if you have any further questions please write them down in the comment section below.

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You may also be interested in:

Article about Set-Point Theory

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8 Responses

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