Binge Eating Disorder in the Middle-Aged Adult

Woman with body dissatisfaction thinking about how society has impacted her

Contributor: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

According to The Binge Eating Disorder Association, binge eating disorder is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Consuming a bigger amount of food than typical during a two-hour period.
  • Frequent episodes of binge eating (defined as happening at least one time a week over a three-month period)
  • Feeling as though one is “not in control” during the binge episode [1]

Further, a binge-eating episode is associated with three or more of the following:

  • Eating more quickly than is typical.
  • Feeling ashamed, guilty, or depressed after overeating.
  • Eating alone due to feeling ashamed about the amount of food eaten.
  • Eating big amounts of food in the absence of physical hunger.
  • Eating until one feels uncomfortably full.  [2]

Unfortunately, binge eating disorder is frequently left out of the media and public’s conversations about eating disorders. Additionally, it was only recently recognized as a diagnosis in the DSM-5. However, it is important to note, “binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and up to 1.6% of adolescents.” [3]

Further, a study that was conducted in 2014 and published the International Journal of Eating Disorders, found that, “eating disorders appear common in middle-aged women, with a preponderance of binge eating disorder and EDNOS diagnoses as compared to the diagnoses of anorexia and bulimia nervosa.” [4]

Stress and Binge Eating Disorder

Stressors in middle-aged adults, which could trigger or exacerbate an eating disorder could include, being an empty nester, divorce, death of parents, and changes in one’s appearance and body that come with age. Further, middle-aged adults who are struggling with binge eating disorder may be even more reluctant to seek treatment due to the stigma of being an adult struggling with what many misperceive to be a disorder that only affects young people.

InsomniaCathy Oskowick, a middle-aged adult who sought treatment for binge eating disorder stated, “I was like, this was a teenage disorder, and that’s one of the reasons it prevented me from going into treatment, right away.” [5]

In regards to the treatment of binge-eating disorder, there are a myriad of components and factors to take into account. One major component that can serve to trigger or perpetuate binge-eating disorder is physical or emotional deprivation.

This makes complete sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD, CEDS, director of Eating Disorder Therapy LA, exemplified this point when she stated,

“Our bodies evolved in an environment in which food was relatively scarce. To survive in such an environment, our bodies had to prioritize the consumption of food above other activities. If our food supply was less secure, we learned to stock up on food when we could…Bingeing was not a matter of poor willpower, but a perfectly normal and healthy body response to starvation.” [6]

Deprivation as a Trigger

Further, it is important to note that just because you are physically “allowing” yourself to eat something, if you are emotionally depriving yourself during the eating experience, this could also trigger binge eating. For instance, if you “allow” yourself to eat a brownie but experience shame and guilt while eating the brownie-this is an example of emotional deprivation.

lady-864348_640x426The implication is that you are “bad” for eating this food, and thus will try to avoid eating it in the future. Therefore, the experience of shame and guilt while eating certain foods can also lead to binge eating (as it triggers the mindset of upcoming deprivation).

For instance, imagine if the makers of your all-time favorite cereal announced that the product would stop being produced by the end of the week. What would you do? For many individuals, the impulse would be to go to the store and stock up on an abundance of boxes of their favorite cereal.

If you think that you will not have access to something in the future-often the drive is to stock up on (or in the case of binge eating, to consume) as much as possible. This example illustrates how a mindset of future deprivation could lead to binge eating. Therefore, it is important to note that the “good” and “bad” food mentality, as well as dieting or food restriction (barring actual medical or ethical considerations)-is ultimately not compatible with recovery from binge eating disorder.

Getting Help

CounselingEatingDisorderAdditionally, if you are struggling with binge eating disorder, it is important to work with a therapist who can help you to examine psychological factors that might be perpetuating your disorder, develop positive coping strategies, as well as examine maladaptive automatic thoughts that could be contributing to the urge to engage in binge eating.

Working on your recovery from binge eating disorder in middle age can bring unique challenges. However, middle-aged individuals also have the benefit of having more life experiences and insights to draw on, which could aid them in their recovery journey.

No one would choose to have an eating disorder, but you can choose to begin working towards recovery from binge eating disorder, at any time-it is never too late.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!!

Are you or your loved one suffering from Binge Eating Disorder during middle-age? What affect has age had on BED and recovery?

Jennifer Rollin photoAbout the author: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a therapist, body-image activist, and writer who specializes in working with adolescents, body image concerns, survivors of trauma, and mood disorders. Jennifer is a blogger for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, as well as a contributing writer for Eating Disorder Hope. For body-positive, self-love, inspiration, “like” her on Facebook at Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW.


[1]: Characteristics of BED. (n.d.). Retrieved from
[2]: Characteristics of BED. (n.d.). Retrieved from
[3]: Binge eating disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from
[4]: Matzek, M., Hoek, H., CI, R., Lackner, K., Frey, N., Whitworth, A., Pope, H., & Kinzl, J. (2014). Prevalence of eating disorders in the middle aged woman. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Retrieved from
[5]: Scurlock, S. (2013). Middle-aged women battling eating disorders. Retrieved from
[6]: Muhlheim, L. (2014). Understanding the binge cycle: the role of dieting. Retrieved from

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 27, 2016
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