The exact cause of binge eating disorder is still unknown, but researchers are beginning to understand factors that lead to its development. Like other eating disorders, binge eating disorder seems to result from a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors.
Binge eating disorder has been linked to other mental health disorders. Nearly half of all people with binge eating disorder have a history of depression, although the exact nature of the link is unclear. Many people report that anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety, or other negative emotions can trigger an episode of binge eating. Impulsive behavior and other psychological problems also seem to be more common in people with binge eating disorder.
Eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, can sometimes run in families, suggesting that a susceptibility to eating disorders might be inherited. Researchers also are looking into possible abnormal functioning of chemical messages to the brain involving hormones that regulate appetite (such as leptin and ghrelin) and proteins that regulate blood sugar and body metabolism (such as adiponectin).
People with binge eating disorder often come from families that overeat or put an unnatural emphasis on food; for example, they may use food as a reward or as a way to soothe or comfort, leading to binge eating as a learned behavioral response to stress.
Binge eating also sometimes can be an undesirable side effect of certain psychiatric or other medications that stimulate appetite and may interfere with people being able to sense when they are full after eating a meal.
Although it might not be possible to prevent all cases of binge eating disorder, it is helpful to begin treatment in people as soon as they begin to have symptoms. In addition, teaching and encouraging healthy eating habits and realistic attitudes about food and body image also might be helpful in preventing the development or worsening of eating disorders.