It is believed that the causes of BED usually fall into one of three categories:  biological, psychological and environmental.  It is believed by some that people affected by BED may have a genetic predisposition to develop an eating disorder.  They may also have altered brain chemicals (Mayo Clinic, 2010).  It is more commonly believed, however, that the causes of this disorder are more likely to be psychological or environmental in nature.  At-risk individuals include those who suffer from low self-esteem or feelings of helplessness.  They may also be individuals who are intensely dissatisfied with their appearance (American Psychological Association, 2010).  Often these things come from negative childhood experiences such as parental depression, vulnerability to obesity, and repeated negative comments about weight or shape (Gibney et al, 2005).

Research shows two pathways by which an at-risk individual will generally develop BED.   (Allen et al, 2008).  The first is referred to as the restraint pathway.  This happens when a transgression from a strict dietary plan induces an “all-or-nothing” mentality.

This person feels that once he or she has deviated from the plan, he or she may as well simply keep on eating.

The result of this is normally a cycle in which one goes back on a strict diet plan, only to fail again, and then participate in further and more frequent binge episodes (Allen et al, 2008).

The second pathway is referred to as the affect-regulation pathway.  An at-risk individual will develop BED in this way when he or she uses food to moderate negative emotions.  Binge eating is reported to dull feelings of sadness, anger, boredom and frustration.  The affect-regulation pathway is most often seen in female and adult adolescents. (Allen et al, 2008).

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Dr. Anthony Centore

Anthony Centore, PhD

Anthony Centore, PhD, is Founder and Chair at Thriveworks — a counseling practice focused on premium client care, with 340+ locations across the US. Anthony is a Private Practice Consultant for the American Counseling Association, columnist for Counseling Today magazine, and author of "How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice". He is a multistate Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and has been quoted in national media sources including The Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and CBS Sunday Morning.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."