Why Do People Binge Eat?

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Why Do People Binge Eat?

For those who do not suffer from binge eating it can be difficult to understand why people binge eat. You may ask, “why don’t they just stop eating so much and learn to control themselves?”

The simple answer is it’s not that easy. Binge eaters overeat for reasons that go beyond a love for food. There are emotional, environmental, and even genetic factors that contribute to binge eating.

Mental Health and Binge Eating

A person who suffers from depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders may use food to cope with their emotions (emotional eating). The taste of good food relieves stress and depression because the brain’s reward-system is being engaged.

Those who have suffered from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are also at risk for binge eating. A person who has been through abuse or trauma may turn to binge eating for several reasons, including:

  • Seeking a sense of control
  • Using food to escape from reality
  • Easing emotional pain and suffering
  • Punishing themselves for being “undeserving” of love or respect.
  • Making themselves look “undesirable” to others (often seen with sexual and domestic abuse)

Families and Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder seems to run in families. This is due to many reasons, including:

  • Upbringing. Eating habits are learned. If we learn poor eating habits as children we will develop poor habits as adults. For example, we may learn to treat food like a reward or a way to ease emotional pain.
  • Genetics. Research has found that many people who have family members who binge eat, are overweight or obese, suffer from other eating disorders, or have a history of addiction, are at risk for binge eating.

Society and Binge Eating

Today’s society and media put an extraordinary amount of pressure on people to look a certain way. The subliminal pressure to fit media’s unrealistic body image can cause a person to develop low self-esteem.

The body image deemed beautiful by the media is often unattainable, but people are still told to feel ashamed for not looking like those seen on TV. People will often binge eat to seek comfort for not being able to look the way they are told they are “supposed” to look.

Advertisements that promote bad food choices are also harmful because they influence people to overeat, socialize with food, and eat foods that are high in fat and sugar.

For example, fast food commercials often promote foods based on their huge portion sizes and rewards you get for ordering their food. The quality of the food is poor, but the attention is diverted from the nutritional content to the “bargain” you get for ordering a meal from their menu.

Binge eating is more than just overeating or making poor food choices. Those with binge eating disorder suffer from deeper issues. Whether it is mental illness, low self-esteem, poor body image, trauma, abuse or genetics, people with binge eating disorder suffer a great deal of emotional and physical pain.

There are ways to stop binge eating and feel better. Through lifestyle changes and therapy there is hope for a brighter, healthier future. Seeking proper treatment from a medical or mental health professional is the first step to kick binge eating for good.


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