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Risk Factors and Signs of Binge Eating Disorder and How to Help Loved Ones Get Help

When people have binge eating disorder, they feel compelled to overeat and cannot control their intake of food. They may feel it is impossible to stop eating and experience great shame as a result of their disordered thoughts and habits. This may delay binge eating recovery considerably as loved ones are not able to fully see the signs.

Binge eating disorder affects adults, teens and adolescents, though it tends to develop most often in the late teens or early 20s. Across all groups, this condition arises more often than any other eating disorder, including anorexia. Even though it is so common, guilt and secrecy often surround the uncontrollable thoughts and behaviors that arise.

As a result, family, friends and other loved ones may find it difficult to spot the development of binge eating disorder. They are encouraged to use this guide to help them understand what to look for in seeing if their loved ones have this condition. They will also learn how to get help for their loved ones from eating disorder treatment centers.  

Risk Factors of Binge Eating Disorder

Although it is not known exactly what causes binge eating disorder to develop, there are many risk factors to watch out for. Below are several potential risk factors.


Genetic factors are thought to have a huge impact on health by increasing or decreasing the risk of certain conditions. Gene mapping and validation techniques have allowed researchers to identify a gene that likely plays a role in the development of binge eating disorder. When people have this gene, called CYFIP2, they face a much higher risk of developing this eating disorder.

Commercially available DNA tests can quickly show if this gene exists in each individual’s genetic makeup. It is possible to explore this link without a DNA test, however, by looking at the prevalence of binge eating disorder within the family. A high prevalence of eating disorder diagnoses, or even undiagnosed behaviors, can reveal a higher risk for others in the family.

Low Self Esteem

A decreased sense of self-worth can greatly increase the risk of binge eating disorder in adults, teens and children. Individuals who are worried about their weight, shape or any other aspect of their physical selves may feel pressured to make a change. Without the ability to cope in a healthy manner, these individuals may turn to disordered thoughts and behaviors.

Low self-esteem is a particularly problematic risk factor as eating disorders can cause people to have a distorted body image. This serves to fuel their condition, making it difficult to reach out for help in starting eating disorder treatment. The treatment process will need to revolve around eliminating those misleading self-perceptions and replace them with positive ones.

Trauma and Loss

Experiencing trauma or loss without an adaptive way to cope can greatly increase the risk of binge eating disorder. When someone goes through a traumatic event or loses a loved one, they may experience overwhelming emotions and distressing thoughts that make it difficult to handle their day to day lives.

These individuals may seek comfort through disordered behaviors. If these thoughts and behaviors center around binge eating, then binge eating disorder could develop as the disordered thought patterns and behaviors become a habit.

Poor Social Support Network

A dysfunctional or nonexistent social support network can dramatically increase the risk of binge eating disorder. A lack of social support may make it difficult to avoid binge eating behaviors and adequately cope with daily stressors. Unsupported individuals may lean on disordered thoughts and behaviors to cope with stress. Unfortunately, this quickly catches up with those individuals in the form of guilt, shame and other distressing emotions.

Having good social support is so important that binge eating treatment centers make it a priority to help their patients rebuild this network before leaving treatment. They often promote family programming and other activities to help ensure their patients have the proper level of social support. When patients leave the treatment centers with their support network intact, they have a much easier time remaining in recovery through all the good and bad that life brings.

Frequent Dieting Behaviors

Frequent dieting is both a potential cause and sign of binge eating disorder. Engaging in regular dieting behaviors also points to dissatisfaction with body size and shape, contributing to the risks.

After the development of binge eating disorder, people may engage in frequent dieting behaviors as a way to compensate for overeating. They may restrict their daily food intake heavily until they have a chance to binge. This vicious cycle can make it very difficult to break away from disordered behaviors and illustrate the need for the individual to acquire help at binge eating treatment centers.

Signs of Binge Eating Disorder Across All Age Groups

Friends and family members can help their loved ones get help for binge eating disorders by watching for the most common signs and symptoms. Upon noticing these issues, they can encourage their loved ones to reach out to an effective binge eating disorder recovery center for help. Here are several signs that may be associated with binge eating disorder.

  • Intense Focus on Food: As disordered thought patterns arise, people with binge eating disorder may feel overwhelmed by thoughts about food. Their intense focus on food may make it difficult to talk about much of anything else. They may obsess about when and what they will eat as an attempt to control the distressing sensations they feel.
  • Changes in Weight: Binge eating sessions and sporadic patterns can result in frequent weight fluctuations. People with this condition are more often overweight than underweight due to their habit of overeating. They may quickly shift between sizes as they attempt to control their eating disorder, and then become overwhelmed by the disordered thoughts and behaviors.
  • Large Volumes of Missing Food: While engaging in binge eating behaviors, individuals tend to consume a large volume of food in one sitting. Since this behavior is done in secret, the food tends to appear to simply go missing without an explanation.  
  • Evidence of Secretive Food Consumption: Despite attempts to conceal binge eating, family members and friends may still be able to find signs of secretive food consumption. These signs may appear like lots of dishes in the sink or a large volume of empty food containers hidden deep in the trash.
  • Need for Control: As binge eating disorder causes an inability to control food intake, it can cause people to overcompensate by attempting to remain in full control of every aspect of their lives. This can cause them to feel anxious and stressed about minor situations that crop up. They may try to calm those feelings by coping with the disordered binge eating behaviors, worsening their state of wellbeing.
  • Inability to Regulate Emotions: Mood swings are common in people in need of care at binge eating treatment centers. They may have a hard time regulating their emotions and staying in control of how they feel. It is common for these individuals to overreact to minorly stressful events as their emotions swing wildly out of control.
  • Avoidance of Group Meals and Eating in Public: The disordered behaviors common with binge eating disorder may cause people to avoid eating meals with their family and friends. They may even avoid eating in public due to a fear of losing control and the shame that arises with overeating.
  • Social Isolation: Attempts to hide disordered thoughts and behaviors can result in social isolation. They may have a hard time spending time with friends and family as the disordered thoughts and behaviors become a way of life.
  • Frequent Talk About Body Image Concerns: People with eating disorders often feel preoccupied with their body image and size. They may frequently make negative comments about their appearance in a serious or joking manner as a way to vent and gain support. They may start to pull away and isolate, however, as the binge eating disorder symptoms worsen.
  • Nausea and Stomach Pain: Binge eating puts a lot of stress on the stomach. The intense intake of food causes the stomach to stretch out, potentially damaging its sensitive tissues. This causes stomach pain and nausea to develop as the gastric system attempts to keep up.

By watching for these signs, or any indication that something is amiss, friends and family can step in and offer resources to loved ones who may have an eating disorder. This helps provide these individuals a lifeline they can hold onto as they find the strength to accept help.

Taking Steps to Prevent Binge Eating Disorder

As with all medical conditions, the earlier the disorder can be treated or in ideal situations, prevented, the better. Family and friends are the first line of defense against the development of eating disorder symptoms. They may be able to identify the risk factors affecting their loved ones and then dutifully watch for the warning signs of binge eating disorder.

Simply noting the problem and starting the conversation can often help people halt disordered thoughts and behaviors before they become a habit. It is also important to help them mitigate their personal risk factors and build a toolbox full of healthy coping skills to protect against eating disorders.

If family members and friends cannot accomplish that feat, and it is not easy, it is always possible to acquire outside help from binge eating disorder treatment centers. These centers focus on helping people build the life skills they need to cope with stress in a healthy manner and combat disordered thoughts and behaviors.  

Ways to Acquire Help from Binge Eating Disorder Treatment Centers

Friends and family can help their loved ones with binge eating disorder acquire help by making that first call or sending an email. Simply reaching out for help is the first step people need to take toward becoming fully recovered from eating disorders of all kinds.

Effective binge eating disorder recovery centers have representatives available to help people enter treatment. These representatives are skilled in assessing each patient’s care needs and collecting the information needed to create an individualized treatment plan. Patients can simply call our binge eating recovery center, Monte Nido, at 1-888-228-1253 to speak directly to one of these helpful professionals. We also encourage you to email our specialists at montenidoadmissions@montenido.com to receive a call back.

While speaking with the admissions specialists, each individual will have a chance to share their story and discuss the journey ahead. As they provide the information needed for their care plan, they will also have ample opportunities to have all their questions answered. The call usually takes approximately 40 minutes to complete. Afterwards, patients will receive an information packet full of documents needed to be completed and returned to the eating disorder treatment center. Patients will receive their admission date after the creation of their treatment plan.









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.