When it comes to risk factors for the development of binge eating disorder (BED), there’s always an interaction between nature and nurture; in other words, there is no one thing that “causes” BED. Research has shown however, that there are a few biological and environmental factors that could indicate a higher risk of developing binge eating disorder.

Biology: Your family background can put you at increased risk for binge eating. We know from genetic research that people with parents who binge and emotionally eat are at greater risk to develop the same behaviors. Current findings suggest that the role of genes may be stronger for women than men.

Childhood Maltreatment: There is evidence to suggest that experiences of childhood neglect or abuse may increase risk for the development of binge eating. There is also data suggesting that many men and women with BED report a history of other types of trauma.  People who survive traumatic experiences develop many ways to cope with those experiences and binge eating can be one of those ways.

Body Image: This one plays a role for most people with BED. The pursuit of unrealistic societal body ideals places people at higher risk for binge eating behavior. Adolescence tends to be a common time period for these thoughts and judgments about one’s body to begin. For many people – of all genders – the difficulty meeting such impossible standards leads to body dissatisfaction. Many people report early experiences of commentary on their body or weight from family, teachers, coaches or peers. Certainly these experiences increase a person’s attention to shape and weight and can increase the likelihood of bodily discontent.

Dieting: One consistent finding in adults and adolescents experiencing binge eating, is a history of attempts to diet. When people make efforts to eat less, go long periods of time without eating or cutting specific foods out of their diet, they are actually at increased risk of binge eating (aka loss of control eating). We know that people who attempt to alter their diet in significant ways will actually focus on and think about food more often than they did before they tried to change their diet.

Emotions: People who tend to act impulsively in response to strong emotional states, are at higher risk for developing binge eating. We know that binge eating often has the short term effect of lessening or relieving distressing emotions. Many people who turn to this behavior, do so because it works – in the moment. What many come to realize is that the behavior doesn’t serve them well in the long term. Recognizing the emotions that often lead to binge eating – and learning alternative behaviors to manage these emotions in a more adaptive way – are a core aspect of the treatment for BED. Knowing about these risk factors can help you understand your eating disorder, but the best place to focus is on the things you can control.  What is within your control are your behaviors – even if it doesn’t feel like it during binge eating episodes. There are treatments available to help you disrupt these patterns of behavior and start changing the way you manage uncomfortable emotions.

If you are interested in learning more about the treatment options available at Walden Behavioral Care, please call 888 -791-0004 to schedule an initial evaluation. There is no commitment to treatment – I always tell clients to consider it an opportunity to meet our staff, see our space and learn about what we offer to help you stop binge eating.


Dr. Kate Craigen is the clinical director of binge eating and bariatric support services. She is responsible for the clinical development and consistent implementation of binge eating disorder programming across Walden’s inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient levels. Additionally, Dr. Craigen collaborates with various bariatric providers and partners throughout New England, ensuring both pre- and post-bariatric surgery patients gain the proper behavioral skills to enhance long-term outcomes. Previously, she was a clinician in Walden’s partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs in Waltham. She also served as a postdoctoral fellow and clinical instructor at the Eating and Weight Disorders Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Craigen received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her professional interests include the role of supervision and training in the field of eating disorders and the role of gender in the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders.