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Binge Eating Disorder

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is an illness that involves eating, in a specific period of time, more food than others eat in the same amount of time, under the same circumstances. It differs from bulimia because its sufferers do not purge their bodies of the excess food via vomiting, laxative abuse, or diuretic abuse.

Who is affected by binge eating disorder?

Individuals with binge eating disorder often:

  • Eat large quantities of food.

  • Do not stop eating until they are uncomfortably full.

  • Feel embarrassed by the volume of food they are eating.

  • Have a history of weight fluctuations.

  • Have more difficulty losing weight and keeping it off than people with other serious weight problems.

Binge eating disorder is found in about 1% to 2% of the general population, and is more often seen in women than men.

What are complications of binge eating disorder?

Medical complications that may result from binge eating disorder include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Overweight or obesity 

  • Increased risk for the following:

    • High cholesterol

    • High blood pressure

    • Diabetes

    • Gallbladder disease

    • Heart disease

    • Some types of cancer

  • Increased risk for psychiatric illnesses, particularly depression

People with binge eating disorder typically consume huge amounts of food at one time -- often junk food -- to reduce stress and relieve anxiety.

  • Guilt and depression usually follow binge eating.

  • Individuals with binge eating disorder are at higher risk for depressive mood disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Biochemistry and eating disorders

To understand eating disorders, researchers have studied the neuroendocrine system, which is made up of a combination of the central nervous and hormonal systems.

The neuroendocrine system regulates multiple functions of the mind and body. It has been found that many of the following regulatory mechanisms may be, to some degree, disturbed in persons with eating disorders:

  • Sexual function

  • Physical growth and development

  • Appetite and digestion

  • Sleep

  • Heart function

  • Kidney function

  • Emotions

  • Thinking

  • Memory

Eating disorders and depression

Many people with eating disorders also appear to suffer from depression, and it is believed that there may be a link between these two disorders. For example:

  • Research has shown that some people with binge eating disorder may respond well to antidepressant medication that affects serotonin function in the body.

  • Biochemical similarities have been discovered between people with eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and people with OCD frequently have abnormal eating behaviors.

Genetic and environmental factors related to eating disorders

Because eating disorders tend to run in families, and female relatives are the most often affected, genetic factors are believed to play a role in the disorders.

But, other influences, both behavioral and environmental, may also play a role. Consider these facts from the American Psychiatric Association:

  • Although most people with binge eating disorder are adolescent and young adult women, this disorder can also affect older women and males of any age.

  • People pursuing professions or activities that emphasize thinness, such as modeling, dancing, gymnastics, wrestling, and long-distance running, are more susceptible to this disorder.