The Link Between Binge Eating and Depression

Medically Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on December 20, 2014
3 min read

If you binge eat, you might feel depressed about your food habits. Or perhaps those feelings make you eat more. Either way, you can get better.

“People do fully recover - and stay well,” says Timothy Brewerton, MD. He is the executive medical director at The Hearth Center for Eating Disorders in Columbia, S.C.

When someone's depressed and they binge eat, it can be hard to know if one condition causes the other or if they're unrelated. It's common for people to get depressed after a binge.

The good news is that there are treatments for both conditions. Sometimes, therapy for depression helps someone stop overeating.

  • About half of the people who binge eat have a mood disorder such as depression.
  • Some people binge in an attempt to numb sad, hopeless feelings.
  • Many of those who binge eat and aren't currently depressed have a history of depression.

Also, you might be born with a risk for both conditions. The same genes involved in depression may play a role in eating and anxiety disorders, says Cynthia Bulik, PhD. She's a distinguished professor of eating disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Binge eating disorder might be linked to changes in the same brain chemicals that affect depression, too.

If you have depression, seek treatment. If you don’t get help, it's harder to recover from binge eating disorder. It might also make you more likely to have a setback.

"At the very least, you need a good professional evaluation," says Russell Marx, MD. He's the chief science officer for the National Eating Disorder Association.

Not every mental health professional has experience treating eating disorders. All who are well-trained, though, should at least be able to diagnose you and, if necessary, refer you elsewhere, says Marx.

Visit the National Eating Disorders Association online or call 800-931-2237 to find an expert in your area.

There's no one-size-fits-all remedy for binge eating disorder. That’s especially true if you also have depression. If you have both conditions, your doctor may recommend talk therapy and medication.

Researchers developed a type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat depression. It’s now also one of the most effective ways to treat binge eating disorder, says Bulik.

"For mild to moderate depression, CBT is probably as good as medication," Brewerton says.

CBT teaches you to spot negative thoughts and habits, and change them into healthier ones. "For example, every time you drive by a certain fast food restaurant you might think, 'I have to have a double cheeseburger with fries and a Coke,'" says Brewerton. “But you don't actually have to eat those foods. You don't even have to drive by that restaurant. You could take another route."

Your doctor might prescribe medication if you have binge eating disorder and depression. Some of the medicines used are:

  • Antidepressants: These drugs target certain chemicals in the brain to help boost your mood. These same chemicals " are involved in appetite and [feeling full], as well as the regulation of mood," Brewerton says.
  • Stimulants: These medicines boost energy and focus, which could help ease depression symptoms. Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse) is a stimulant approved for treating binge eating disorder. Studies show it helps control impulsive behavior that can lead to binge eating.

Show Sources


The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt: "Binge Eating Disorder."

Timothy Brewerton, MD, executive medical director, The Hearth Center for Eating Disorders, Columbia, SC; clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Medical University of South Carolina.

Cynthia Bulik, PhD, distinguished professor of Eating Disorders, UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders.

Duarte, C. Eating Behaviors, December 2014.

Herman, B. Postgraduate Medicine, September 2014.

Jyrki, T. Psychopharmacology, May 2001.

Russell Marx, MD, chief science officer, National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).

Office on Women's Health: "Binge Eating Disorder Fact Sheet."

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