Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

Learn what causes binge eating disorder and overeating at HealthyPlace. Includes biological, psychological, and environmental overeating causes.

Causes of Binge Eating Disorder and Overeating

What causes binge eating disorder? Why is it so prevalent? In the United States, binge eating disorder statistics reveal the illness affects one out of every fifty people. As with many mental health conditions, researchers believe a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors are behind the causes of overeating.

Biological Causes of Overeating

Scientists studying the causes of overeating in a compulsive manner theorize the part of the brain that controls appetite (the hypothalamus) may not be sending the correct messages about hunger and fullness. Another theory holds that low levels of serotonin play a part in binge and other eating disorders. Finally, binge eating disorder tends to run in families; suggesting that genetics is one of the causes of overeating.

Other overeating causes include:1

  • Being female - women are slightly more likely than men to get binge eating disorder
  • Being in late adolescence or early 20's - these are the times when binge eating disorder typically starts
  • Having a history of dieting (dangers of dieting)

Psychological Causes of Binge Eating Disorder

It seems clear that psychological issues are one of the main causes of binge eating disorder. Nearly half of all people who compulsively overeat have a history of depression. Binge eaters report that strong negative emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness and boredom, are driving forces behind why they constantly overeat.

Other known psychological factors and causes of binge eating include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble controlling impulsive behaviors
  • Trouble managing moods or expressing anger
  • Loneliness
  • Dissatisfaction with body or appearance
  • Dealing with a trauma such as sexual abuse


Overeating Causes and Environmental Issues

Social, cultural and family pressures can also result in a person developing binge eating disorder. Cultures that value thinness, shames overeaters, causing them to hide their eating behavior. This secrecy can fuel an eating disorder. While binge eaters tend to be overweight, they are often acutely aware of this and are critical of their own appearance. In fact, many report their own families were often critical and put pressure on them regarding their appearance starting at a young age. Parents stressing food as a comfort or a reward can unwittingly be one of the causes of overeating and binge eating disorder.2

Binge Eating Serves a Purpose

While on the outside it seems there is no reward to binge eating, in truth, compulsive overeating is developed for a reason. One of the main causes of binge eating disorder is an inability to deal with, or control, the stresses in the world around the binge eater. The amount of food they eat is one thing they can control. It's something that makes them feel good.

In studies into the causes of binge eating disorder, patients report using food as the only way of coping with high levels of stress - such as an abusive relationship, a divorce, or a death. Binge eaters commonly talk about "floating away" or escaping from life's worries during binges.

article references

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2022, January 4). Causes of Binge Eating Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: January 12, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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