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An In-Depth Breakdown of the Underlying Risk Factors Associated with Binge Eating Disorders

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) states that binge eating disorder (BED) could potentially be the most prevalent eating disorder in the United States. Females are the most affected, with as many as 3.5 percent of women who could potentially benefit from attending an eating disorder recovery center. An estimated two percent of males also have BED. Yet, BED is still highly misunderstood. Similar to any eating disorder, BED is a complex psychological disorder and diagnosis and treatment should be completed in a professional and compassionate way.

While there is no exact cause of binge eating disorder, there are some common risk factors. While receiving care at an eating disorder treatment center, it is important to examine, with the guidance of an eating disorder professional, the underlying factors that contribute to the disorder. This information can guide the treatment and recovery process. Take a look at some of the common underlying risk factors that may lead to binge eating disorder or the need for an eating disorder treatment center near them.

Age as a Potential Underlying Factor 

People of any age group can develop an eating disorder and have a need for obsessive eating disorder treatment, including treatment for BED. However, the condition most often begins to develop in the late adolescent years or early twenties, according to NEDA. This fact suggests age could play an important role in how at risk an individual may be of developing binge eating disorder. Unfortunately, because binge eating disorders are so misunderstood and the symptoms often downplayed, diagnosis can oftentimes take many years to be properly assessed.

History of Eating Disorders

Binge eating disorder is three times as common as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa combined. However, the potential development of BED can increase if the individual has been diagnosed with another eating disorder in the past. Additionally, some eating disorder presentations can be the same across any eating disorder. Common traits can include:

  • Obsessive behaviors associated with food
  • Erratic thought patterns about self image or dieting
  • Discomfort with eating in public or in the presence of others
  • History of depression, anxiety or other mood disorders

Because some of the traits associated with eating disorders can be similar, individuals can experience multiple presentations of their eating disorder over their life. In other words, individuals who have already been diagnosed with an eating disorder or who have entered obsessive eating disorder treatment in the past may be at higher risk of developing BED.

Relative Conditions That Can Pose a Risk 

If an individual has a certain disorder, such as Prader-Willi disorder that results from a lesion in the hypothalamus and  is usually present at birth, they can be more at risk of developing binge eating disorder. The reasoning behind this is the hypothalamus gland is partly responsible for eating behaviors, such as signaling when a person is hungry or letting them know when they feel full. Therefore, someone with Prader-Willi disorder may not be able to control their eating habits and present with binge eating disorder symptoms. Some of the symptoms of Prader-Willi disorder, which is most often diagnosed in the early stages of infancy, include:

  • Poor muscle tone
  • Certain facial features, such as almond-shaped eyes or a thin upper lip
  • Poor response to stimulation, such as a weak cry or sleeping more than usual
  • Underdeveloped genitals
  • Constant craving for food
  • Unusual food seeking behaviors
  • Poor growth and physical development
  • Delayed motor development

A History of Dieting

Individuals who develop an eating disorder may have a more obsessive tendency toward dieting or weight control. Even though a history of excessive dieting is most often associated with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, it can also be present with individuals who have received a binge eating disorder diagnosis. People may severely restrict their food intake to a point they then turn to binge behaviors as a response to feelings of extreme hunger or deprivation of energy (calories) to the body.

Just because someone is dieting does not necessarily mean they have an eating disorder. It is important discredit that assumption. However, there is a fine line before dieting can lead to obsessive or compulsive tendencies toward food, diet and fitness. When a patient enters an eating disorder treatment center, they will work with nutritional and medical experts to help them understand and implement proper techniques to replace the disordered behaviors and replace them with more positive, recovery focused actions.

Sexual Abuse and Childhood Trauma

Sexual abuse and other traumatic events at an early age can put a person more at risk of developing an eating disorder The relationship between the psychological trauma and eating disorders can be difficult to understand from an outside perspective, but many people who enter an eating disorder recovery center do report they have experienced either sexual abuse as a child or some emotional trauma. Many times, PTSD or other forms of trauma will be treated concurrently with BED when a client enters an eating disorder recovery center.

Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions

A large percentage of individuals who have been diagnosed with binge eating disorder report they also experience anxiety, depression, excessive worry or high levels of stress. In fact, the majority of people who seek treatment for BED may also be diagnosed with comorbid disorders; additionally, individuals with an eating disorder can also be prone to substance abuse issues.

Depression is one of the most common mental health issues associated with binge eating disorder, although depression can be present long before the eating disorder itself, making it a potential contributing factor. Obsessive-compulsive disorder may also be present and can be tightly woven with the symptoms of a binge eating disorder, as well as other types of eating disorders

Biological Vulnerability

Genes and brain chemistry are both thought to be linked to the vulnerability of developing binge eating disorder. The central nervous system, which plays a large role in eating habits, is affected by genetics and brain chemistry. Therefore, individuals with a genetic predisposition because of central nervous system issues or issues with how the gut functions could be at a greater risk of developing binge eating disorder. Research relative to underlying biological vulnerability and eating disorders is limited, but the proposed link is enough that greater attention is being placed on possible genetic influence among people who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Societal Influences 

Individuals with a skewed focus on societal expectations and how it relates to personal body image can be at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. Excessive social media use has been associated with triggering obsessive eating disorder symptoms, especially in younger female adolescents who may already struggle with body image and low self-esteem. A certain image is displayed by the media or online that is oftentimes completely illogical and unobtainable, which can leave vulnerable individuals constantly working to achieve an impossible appearance.

Certain Occupations

It is suspected there are some occupations and careers that may make individuals more susceptible to developing binge eating disorder. For example, individuals who work in the modeling or entertainment industry may be more vulnerable because an unrealistic body image may be highlighted in these fields. Athletes may also be at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder than individuals who work in more traditional roles because they are constantly put into positions where they have to alter their physical stature. It is important to note that although eating disorder treatment centers may see clients with occupations in these fields, but a certain occupation does not necessarily make one at risk for binge eating disorder.

Family History

When children are raised in an environment in which eating disorders are present, it may make the child more at risk of developing an eating disorder. The link between family history of eating disorders and the development of eating disorders can be relative to environmental exposure as well as potential genetic predisposition. However, if there is a family history present, whether it is a parent, sibling or otherwise, the risks are elevated. In some situations, eating disorder behaviors are learned from adults through childhood, which means the behaviors grow to be acceptable or comfortable.

Binge Eating Disorder Treatment at Monte Nido 

Binge eating disorder recovery can be a complicated process. Every client who commits to recovery will have different underlying issues that can play a part in their eating disorder behavior. At Monte Nido, we create a personalized plan of action for treatment after in-depth consultations with incoming clients. As part of this process, we take a look at all proposed risk factors and how they should be addressed.

Monte Nido has been well respected in the eating disorder community for more than 20 years. The tenured, compassionate staff members, homelike facilities  and dedication to our clients make Monte Nido a preferred treatment option. Our programs combine state-of-the-art medical and psychiatric treatment, high quality therapy and 24 hour care for our clients.

Our binge eating programs are available in multiple locations and in several states across the country. We provide residential and day treatment programs. If you are looking for eating disorder treatment near you for yourself or a loved one, reach out to us to speak with a representative.

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.