Find some of the most common reasons people binge eat and how to stop yourself from bingeing on food.

If you have ever asked yourself, “Why do I binge eat?” you aren’t alone. Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. According to data collected by the National Institute of Mental Health, the lifetime prevalence of binge eating disorder in the United States is 2.8 percent.

Binge eating can affect your quality of life, your sense of well-being and your health. However, it can be difficult to stop binge eating, despite the negative health effects. Fortunately, by learning helpful coping strategies and identifying the psychological reasons you binge eat, you can begin to work to overcome them.

Article at a Glance:

  • Binge eating is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.
  • Binge eating involves a loss of control, feelings of guilt, eating alone and distress after eating.
  • People binge eat due to depression, genetics, anxiety, low self-esteem and dieting.
  • Planning meals, portioning food and keeping a food diary can help you overcome binge eating.
  • Teletherapy and in-person support groups are great solutions for helping people with a binge eating disorder.

Binge Eating vs. Overeating

Before exploring why you binge eat, it’s useful to have a general understanding of what binge eating is and how it’s different from overeating. Binge eating disorder is characterized by repeated episodes of eating more in a specific period of time than most people would under similar circumstances. There is often a feeling of loss of control that comes with binge eating.

Binge eating disorder typically also involves:

  • Feelings of disgust, guilt or embarrassment directed toward oneself
  • Eating alone to conceal the behavior
  • Episodes that occur at least once a week for three months
  • Significant distress after bingeing

Unlike binge eating, overeating tends not to happen recurrently or be driven by a sense of lack of control. In most cases, overeating also does not trigger the same intense feelings of guilt and shame that binge eating does.

5 Reasons People Binge Eat

The reasons people binge eat can vary from person-to-person. However, there are some general patterns people tend to follow if they struggle with binge eating or a diagnosed binge eating disorder.

1. Genetics

Is binge eating disorder genetic? It’s possible that binge eating disorder is genetic or at least partially connected to certain genetic risk factors. The same genetic risk factors linked to binge eating disorder are also associated with an increased risk of substance use disorders and other eating disorders. In a recent study from Boston University School of Medicine, researchers identified one gene that was connected to binge eating in mice.

2. Depression

Depression and binge eating disorder are often closely linked. However, it can be a challenge to know which causes the other. For example, someone might binge eat because they’re depressed, or their binge eating may cause symptoms of depression.

3. Low Self-Esteem

Self-esteem, body image and eating disorders are all often closely linked to one another. In many cases, low self-esteem or poor body image trigger feelings of guilt and shame that people cope with by binge eating. Conversely, the feelings of guilt and shame that many people experience after binge eating can lead to worsened self-esteem and body image.

4. Stress and Anxiety

Stress is a common trigger for binge eating. Many people use eating as a coping mechanism to deal with stress or anxiety.

5. Dieting

It may seem counterintuitive, but many people begin binge eating after dieting. People dieting sometimes control their food intake to the point that they have intense cravings for food. As a response, many of these people binge eat. Slipping up on a diet can also lead to feelings of guilt, which can trigger binge eating.

How to Overcome Binge Eating

Learning how to stop binge eating isn’t easy, but it’s certainly possible. Overcoming binge eating often relies on identifying triggers and reasons for bingeing. Once you recognize the reasons you’re binge eating, you can start to find specific methods to help you control binge eating.

The following strategies can help you combat the urge to binge eat:

  • Keep a Food Diary. A food diary can help you be more mindful about what you’re eating and make it easier to identify triggers. It can also serve as a place to keep track of your moods and feelings.
  • Plan Out Your Meals. Meal planning can help you develop eating patterns that are healthier, and make it easier to control what you eat. As part of a binge eating meal plan prevention strategy, ensure that you have the ingredients you need to make everything on your meal plan. This cuts out the uncertainty or instability that may be a trigger for binge eating.
  • Portion Out Your Food. Much like meal planning, food portion control can help you take more control over your eating habits and reduce the chance that you’ll fall back into a binge eating pattern. Removing extra junk food from your kitchen and sticking with a weekly shopping, meal planning and portion control routine can help set you up for success.
  • Don’t Eat Alone. One of the primary signs of binge eating disorder is feeling ashamed or embarrassed about your eating habits, which can lead you to binge eat when alone. Improve accountability and reduce negative patterns by always trying to eat meals with another person.
  • Avoid Yo-Yo Dieting. Yo-yo dieting is a vicious cycle of weight loss and weight gain. Not only can it increase the likelihood of binge eating, but it’s also an unhealthy and unsustainable way to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Focus more on developing sustainable, long-term healthy eating habits rather than trying extreme deprivation or fad diets.
  • Seek Support Through Teletherapy. Binge eating disorder can feel like something that takes over your life. You may require additional help and professional support. Fortunately, different options are available for treating binge eating disorder, including teletherapy. Teletherapy can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms. You may also find benefit in a binge eating support group, as social support can be invaluable when you’re dealing with an eating disorder.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more

National Institute of Mental Health. “Eating Disorders.” November 2017. Accessed February 14, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.