Depression and Binge Eating Disorder

Article Contributed By: Guy Oberwise, LCSW, Mood and Anxiety Coordinator, Timberline Knolls

What is Depression?

Depression commonly co-occurs with many food-related disorders. It is not unusual to discover a link between depression and binge-eating disorder (BED).

Depression is defined as severe despondency and dejection, typically felt over a period of time and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.

BED is extremely common, with one in 10 adults in the U.S. reporting a problem with depression [1].

BED, recently included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is a disorder in which an individual consumes tremendous quantities of food, but does not purge.

Today, BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States. An estimated 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and 30% to 40% of those seeking weight loss treatments can be clinically diagnosed with binge eating disorder [2].

When these disorders co-occur, the ever-popular question “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” is certainly appropriate, as both could occur first.

Clinical Depression is A Very Serious Condition

Often depression is associated with some type of trauma, either earlier in life or in the present moment. Those with depression feel as though a bone-crushing weight is always on their shoulders. It is not unusual to seek solace in food. Not only does it provide a degree of enjoyment, but it serves as a distraction.

While eating, the person is not focused on the hopelessness or intense sorrow of life. Unfortunately, the behavior can and often does become addictive and the medical and physical consequences can be severe. This is because, unlike bulimia, those with BED do not purge. Obesity, with all its related problems, usually results.

The Connection Between Depression and Eating Disorders

Conversely, an individual may begin with an eating disorder. Again, this is often connected to trauma. A young girl experiences a seemingly minor, yet ongoing, trauma such as bullying; or a woman experiences a major traumatic event such as rape.

Either way, each of them may be plagued by painful thoughts and emotions surrounding the trauma.

Just as those with depression, she strives to cope with these feelings by eating. When the inevitable weight gain ensues, the emotional pain continues, and her world grows increasingly narrow with food serving as her best friend, depression often follows.

Recovery Is Possible

Fortunately, regardless of how these co-occurring disorders unfold in a person’s life, complete recovery is possible. Due to the complex nature of the two disorders occurring simultaneously, residential or inpatient treatment may be required; but at the end of the day, a person can experience freedom from depression and a healthy relationship with food.




Page Last Updated and Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
February 7, 2014
Published on, Information and Support for Disordered Eating