Triggers and Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is identified by frequent consumption of large amounts of food at a fast pace. Individuals eat past the point of physical comfort, usually within a two-hour window. A binge is often experienced as a loss of control. It may be followed by negative emotions, like shame or guilt. Unlike patients with bulimia nervosa, individuals with BED do not engage in compensatory purging behaviors like self-induced vomiting, exercising, or laxative abuse. BED is the most common eating disorder, affecting one to five percent of adults in the United States, but it is often under-recognized and under-treated. 

What triggers binge eating?

Now, let’s take a closer look at the four primary triggers for binge eating.

Trigger 1: Getting too hungry

When we feel ravenous and finally have access to food again, it’s normal to eat with less awareness and control. As a result, we consume more food in a shorter amount of time. For someone with BED, this scenario happens often, as these individuals tend to eat irregularly or restrict meals. They may even “save up” by skipping a meal, only to overeat later in the day.

Trigger 2: Making a “mistake”

People who binge eat often over-control their food intake. This rigid and rule-based approach to eating invariably will lead to some divergence from the impossible rules (a “mistake”).  People refer to “being bad,” eating “too much,” or eating the “wrong” thing. This kind of all-or-nothing approach can prompt them to think, “I might as well just give up and start over tomorrow.”

Trigger 3: Handling negative emotions

For many people, food is pleasurable and soothing. If you’re feeling anxious, bored, or lonely, it’s natural to use food as a means of comfort or escape. However, it becomes a problem when you use food as a primary method of self-soothing, numbing, or distracting. This tendency is common in BED.

Trigger 4: Feeling fat

Individuals who binge eat tend to experience higher levels of body dissatisfaction and preoccupation. Negative feelings about your body may cause extreme dieting (which leads to overeating, as explained in trigger 1), low self-esteem, depressed mood, and isolation.

While these four triggers are most common, there are many other factors that keep people trapped in the binge eating cycle. Each individual’s motivation and experience is unique. At Columbus Park, we structure treatment to combat triggers and support regular, flexible eating as well as skills to cope with negative mood states and self-talk. 

One successful treatment approach for BED is Enhanced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT-E).

CBT-E is a time-limited, behavioral therapy that lasts 20 weeks and focuses on the day-to-day factors that maintain the eating problem. CBT-E gives people strategies to establish regular eating. The treatment also focuses in on expanding methods of coping, decreasing preoccupation with shape and weight, increasing flexibility, and building self-awareness.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to our team at to discuss treatment options.