What are the most common causes of binge eating disorder?

What are the most common causes of binge eating disorder?

What are the most common causes of binge eating disorder?

It is generally agreed that there is no single cause that leads to the development of a binge eating disorder. Causes are most often a complex mix of influencing factors which appear to take a chronic course. Influences include biological factors, psychological problems, long-term dieting habits and genetics which have all been commonly noted in diagnosed cases of binge eating disorder.

Associated risk factors:

Many with binge eating disorder will be assessed for more than one of these associated influences, which increase the risk of developing such a compulsive problem …

  • Psychological influences: A negative body image is often a large part of the problem. For many this is at the root of the trigger that compels a person to compensate emotional turmoil with the use of food. Along with body image, a person may also feel negatively about their own skill levels or even accomplishments in life. Food becomes the ‘feel-good-quick-fix’ replacement for dealing with psychological issues. Other psychological influences include exposure to negative perceptions or comments regarding weight, body image (or shape) and healthy / unhealthy eating. Individuals who participate in competitive fitness or elite level sporting activities can also place themselves at higher risk of psychological and emotional triggers for an eating disorder, such as binge eating disorder as periods of extreme caloric restriction and focusing on “eating clean” in preparation for the fitness stage are often followed by binges in an attempt to satisfy all of the suppressed cravings of the previous months.
  • Dieting: Restrictive eating or skipping meals (lack of sufficient calorie intake), long-term dieting and yo-yo dieting can trigger binge urges. This coupled with psychological influences and a low self-esteem can place a person at higher risk of becoming a compulsive eater. Many who are diagnosed and treated for binge eating disorder have a history of dieting, some dating back to their childhood days.
  • Genetics and family history: Research has linked the inheritance of certain genes as potential risk factors for such a disorder. If a parent or sibling has been diagnosed and treated for an eating disorder, a person prone to eating problems may be at higher risk. Studies have indicated that abnormal levels of serotonin (a monoamine neurotransmitter) in the brain can result in subtle changes in its function (also influencing metabolism), which may make a person more susceptible to behaviours or other influences linked to an eating disorder.
  • Biological influences: A predisposition to obesity (genetically or otherwise), is another risk factor (although not always – healthy weight individuals can also develop binge habits), closely linked with psychological and dieting history influences. It is fairly common for individuals seeking treatment for obesity to also be diagnosed with an eating disorder such as binge eating disorder. Severely overweight or obese individuals typically are at higher risk for other medical health conditions such as diabetes, coeliac disease (or celiac disease), high blood pressure (hypertension), heart problems, digestive issues, sleeping problems and other psychiatric illnesses.

A person’s age also comes into play. It has been noted that binge eating disorder is more prevalent in both males and females during adolescence or early adulthood (20s).

Common triggering causes include:

  • Emotional influences: Eating can be strongly influenced by an overwhelming need to feel comforted. Binging on ‘comfort foods’ such as fast foods and sweets or ice cream is associated with what is known as ‘emotional eating’. The experience of consuming such foods serves as a reminder of memories that may be more comforting to a person and elevates their perception of happiness, thus compensating for something that a person finds more difficult to handle. These temporary ‘fixes’ can be triggered by factors such as anxiety, acute stress, childhood habits, childhood trauma, boredom or social pressures. A person develops a habit that essentially loses sight of the ability to identify emotions triggering a binge response, separately from the action of compulsively comfort eating. Often emotional influences are linked to social triggers such as a history of being bullied or having been exposed to physical, emotional, psychological or sexual abuse. Emotional overeating can be triggered by something as simple as boredom or a negative mood, or something more serious such as the effects of abuse that have not been effectively treated.
  • Environmental influences: The food industry can also serve as a trigger point for compulsive binge eating. Social gatherings, food trends, restaurants (often serving multiple courses), packaged goods in supermarkets etc. which present food in a way that can be over-indulged in can become problematic for a compulsive binge eater. Convenience foods and bulk packaging make it all too easy to cross the line of portion control and healthy eating habits. For someone prone to overeating, this can influence their ability to stop eating at a healthy and appropriate time (achieving normal levels of satiation).
  • Psychological influences: Emotional triggers that lead to compulsive overeating essentially develop a form of food addiction behaviours. Trigger points include a heightened sense of perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, bouts of anxiety, signs of depression, the development of phobias, panic attacks or panic disorders and substance abuse behaviours.
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