Binge Eating Disorder

Does binge eating make you feel out of control? ADHD can make it worse. Here’s how.

February 5, 2024

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States
  • During a binge, people experience a loss of control over their eating
  • There is a strong overlap between ADHD and binge eating
  • Impulsivity and other ADHD symptoms can make binge eating worse
  • An expert registered dietitian can offer the right support and knowledge to help you heal

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. The condition is complex and involves biological, psychological, and other factors.

What is the binge-eating cycle?

On a high level, the BED cycle looks like this:

  • There’s a mental tug-of-war against the urge to binge
  • ‘Giving in’ to cravings (usually high-carb and high-sugar foods)
  • Gaining temporary relief
  • Fight feelings of shame, guilt, disgust, and low self-esteem.

The cycle continues as the urge to binge reappears and intensifies. If you struggle with binge eating, this may already sound familiar. You may experience a loss of control over your eating, almost like an out-of-body experience.

Why do people feel a loss of control during binges?

To numb or soothe from emotional distress

Food can be a way to cope with unpleasant feelings like stress, fear, boredom, anger, frustration, sadness, and grief. These behaviors are often learned in childhood and carry over to adulthood as a default response. When you binge eat, your body can be on auto-pilot while your brain temporarily escapes from feelings of distress.

Rita Faycurry, RD, expert Registered Dietitian, explains, “If you have ADHD, you may feel misunderstood by those around you, feel like you’re always playing catch up, have trouble regulating your emotions, and battle sensory overload. Studies show that people with ADHD are also very hard on themselves, with negative perceptions and harsh self-criticisms. Dissociating from emotions during a binge can offer an immediate release from this emotional discomfort.”

When battling depression

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical produced in our gut responsible for happiness and satisfaction. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), people with BED suffer from chronically low serotonin levels, which can play a role in binge eating.

Says Faycurry, “Binge eating disorder often coexists with ADHD, depression, and anxiety, which can make it harder to resist the urge to binge. Binging on high-sugar and high-carb foods can boost serotonin levels, offering a sense of satisfaction and a temporary calm. Unfortunately, this can turn into a vicious, compulsive cycle of binges that can take a huge toll on your health in the long term. But, with the right help, recovery is possible.”

If you would like to talk to someone about your binge eating disorder, consider contacting an experienced Registered Dietitian nutritionist. Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by insurance. 

To get a reward

Cravings for binges often involve foods rich in carbs, sugars, fat, and salt. Being around or thinking about these foods can trigger your brain to release dopamine, the pleasure-seeking chemical. It’s important to note that dopamine levels rise when there is anticipation of a reward.

Studies show that binge eating is significantly linked to the release of dopamine in the brain. People with binge eating disorder are more likely to feel more intense pleasure from food, making it more likely that they indulge in compulsive behavior.

This heightened pleasure can temporarily override our decision-making ability and impair attention. This process can lead to a feeling of loss of control.

When dealing with impulse control challenges

Research shows that people with binge eating disorder struggle with impulse control, particularly when connected to food. Brain scans of people with BED show impulsivity, rash behavior, hyperfocus on foods, and executive function. All these make it more likely that people with BED focus on more immediate rewards than longer-term goals like better health.

Impulsivity? Impaired executive function? A focus on short-term rewards? You guessed it—these are symptoms of ADHD as well. As researchers expand their understanding of eating disorders and mental health disorders, it becomes more apparent that there is a strong overlap between eating disorders and mental health.

Getting help for binge eating disorder

Tackling chronic issues like binge eating disorder and co-existing conditions like ADHD, depression, and anxiety can be complex. You do not have to do it alone.

Ideally, treatment for binge eating disorder includes therapy, medication (when applicable), and the help of a Registered Dietitian for nutritional health.

Fay can help you find a licensed Registered Dietitian nutritionist near you, covered by insurance.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.