What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is when an individual recurrently consumes larger than normal amounts of food within a short period of time (e.g. less than 2 hours), often when not physically hungry. If these episodes are associated with feelings of lack of control, embarrassment, feeling uncomfortably full and subsequent distress/guilt results from having overeaten, then it is likely that an individual has a BED. Unlike other eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder are not associated with inappropriate compensatory behaviours such as purging (e.g. vomiting, use of laxatives etc.). For this reason, BED can also frequently co-occur with cases of obesity.
What causes Binge Eating Disorder
As with all eating disorders, the reasons why people develop BED are varied and complex. While they depend upon an individual’s life-experiences, emotional make-up and genetic predisposition, the contributory factors can broadly be broken down into three categories.
Biological – For many reasons our hormonal system can become imbalanced and begin to send improper messages about when and when not to eat, although not the only cause of a BED, imbalances such as these are thought to play a role in the development of BED.
From an evolutionary perspective, our supply of food would not have always been as abundant as it is today, making more prolonged periods of fasting and feasting a natural process. Unfortunately, a combination of our instinctual tendency to make the most of available food and the current abundance of food (particularly food that is highly processed, refined and less satiating) can sometimes have inevitable consequences.
Psychological – There are strong correlations between issues pertaining to depression, impulse control and expression of feelings with BED. These will often be tied into the development of BED and can be linked to a variety of the factors mentioned above and below. In any case, they should be identified and approached when dealing with BED.
Social –Throughout our lives, we can develop inappropriate associations with food that also contribute to BED by means of social and cultural factors. For example, if a person begins to turn to food for comfort or as a mechanism to deal with stress, it can begin to provide the foundation for maladaptive binge eating behaviour. When combined with obesity (and the common feelings of bodily dissatisfaction or criticism from others that can follow), such types of ‘emotional eating’ as a reaction to distress can lead to a BED.
Why do people binge eat?
Stress –Above all, binge eating is a coping mechanism. Binge eating that results from stress is usually due to elevated cortisol levels, which, if experienced over a prolonged period can increase the motivation to eat.
To Suppress Emotions –Whilst food can be a strategy for dampening emotions and detaching a person from uncomfortable feelings, it is only a short-term solution. In the longer-term it can become a crutch, creating an unhealthy cycle and negatively impacting a person’s health.
Boredom –Eating food is such an accessible and socially accepted action; binge eating easily be justified as “something to do”. Whilst it might seem like there can be no apparent harm in having a quick snack when bored, problems can arise when this becomes a habit and is done through a lack of awareness. If a person eats to fill time, rather than because of hunger, over time this can develop into a more problematic habit.
For Entertainment –Some people are foodies through and through. They’ll eat less for fuel and more the sensory experience and trying new flavour combinations. This attitude can lead to oversized meals comprising of many ‘smaller’ portions of different foods. When this is the case, there can be a distinct fear of missing out (FOMO). There will always be something new and exotic to try despite what the gut may be communicating to the brain.
Social Influences (Mukbang) –This is a relatively new phenomenon. Mukbangs are eating shows created by young adults on YouTube. They’re intended for people to eat along with them who have no one else to dine with – the concept originated in Korea to solve a legitimate social problem. However, the quantities of food eaten in these videos are often enormous, leading some viewers to see this behaviour as socially acceptable. They may form a connection with a favourite “mukbanger” and see their behaviour as something to aspire to.
Myths about Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Binge Eating Disorder isn’t a “Real Thing” –Binge eating is a very real disorder. It has an official categorisation within the DSM-5. And not only affects an individual’s mental state, but it can also have serious consequences on their physical health if it’s left untreated in the long-term. Over-eating stresses the body and the organs which are responsible for processing the food we consume. They have a limited capacity and life span. Much like a car engine, the more miles you put on them, the greater the chance there is of it breaking down. Heart disease, diabetes and other associated issues are just as much of a risk factor as the disruption caused to your productivity and through distraction.
‘Binge Eating’ Disorder is Really Just ‘Overeating’ –People like to interchange the two words – ‘overeating’ and ‘binge eating.’ Partly, the reason for this is due to the acceptance of binging as an acceptable part of our modern culture. We may binge a series on Netflix and wear it as a badge of honour. And because that, the word is now in firmly established in our common vocabulary and how we now describe overeating. Except, the two are completely different. Overeating can be seen as having an extra piece of cake or indulging in a large meal at family gatherings. It’s occasional. Binge eating, on the other hand, involves eating far past physical fullness on a frequent basis.
Binge Eating Disorder Only Affects Overweight People –Binge eating is not a weight-specific disorder. It’s a mental condition that’s governed by triggers which have been embedded in an individual through their environment, peers and other stimulus. It’s a compensatory behaviour which functions as a way to avoid dealing with difficult or negative emotions. Although binge eating can lead to eventual weight gain, it’s not a symptom of the condition itself. The onset of binge eating can be likened to any other form of addiction. It’s a compulsion born of deep unsatisfaction with one’s personal circumstances.
People with Binge Eating Disorder Just Need to Eat Less –If people with binge eating disorder (BED) just needed to eat less, then there wouldn’t be such a condition in the first place. Regulating these compulsions that are activated by strong emotional triggers is something which requires a strategy to overcome. It’s a multifaceted process of identifying, accepting and moving beyond these self-limiting behaviours. At its core, binge eating is a behavioural disorder that can only be overcome by making a concerted effort to make positive changes to your behaviour. The key takeaway is that it’s not as easy as making an instantaneous choice but instead is about make progressive steps towards recovery.
People Who Binge Eat Just Need to Go on a Diet or Lose Weight –This is possibly one of the most harmful misconceptions, especially if it’s coming from the mind of the binge eating themselves. A significant part of the binge eating cycle is the restriction that occurs after an episode – which inevitably leads to further binging. It’s a vicious cycle that can be hard to break. So to suggest that a calorie-restricted diet is an answer loses sight of the nature of the condition. It may work for a certain length of time, but unless the issues relating to the binge eating are addressed, it will eventually resurface. Such diets are unsustainable, and the breaking of the rules often leads to a reoccurrence of the original problem.
People Who Binge Eat Just Need to Eat Less High-Fat Food –Again, food types/groups have much less to do with binge eating than is suggested, as it’s not a weight-specific disorder. It doesn’t matter what types of food form part of the binge episode. You can just as easily binge on a high-carb foods, which in many ways is far easier to do, due to the satiating effect that fat has on the body. For example, this might be the case if you’re following a ketogenic diet (high fat/low carb) and experience a slip. If you’re already predisposed to bring eating episodes, you could easily find yourself eating all of the high-carb foods you’ve denied yourself so long.
Binge Eating Disorder Only Affects Women –Another popular myth is that Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a gender-specific issue. This has become an accepted fact for a lot of people, as women ‘apparently’ place more emphasis on diet than men. But it’s a variable that doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. It’s estimated that around one third to one-half of all binge eating disorder cases affect men. It’s a sizable number to say that it’s a women’s only condition. And binge eating transcends not only gender but race, ethnicity and age as well. Like, the vast majority of mental health issues, it doesn’t selectively choose its target. Everyone is just as susceptible if the right conditions are in place.
Treatment of Binge Eating Disorders
Depending on an individual’s personal circumstance, there is help and a range of treatments are available for those with Binge Eating Disorder. In the first instance, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommend one of three different possible interventions:
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for binge eating disorder (CBT-BED) This involves working with a qualified practitioner to recognize, challenge and improve dysfunctional or maladaptive binge eating behaviours. It can include educational aspects surrounding food and healthy weight loss topics, but will also help a patient to manage their emotions in relation to food.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) This focuses more specifically relationship issues that can lead to BED. Originally developed to deal with depression, it helps patients to better communicate and create healthier relationships with those around them; in doing so it can promote appropriate mechanisms to help combat compulsive eating behaviour. It usually involves 16–20 hour-long one-to-one treatment sessions over 4 to 5 months
- Modified dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) This is a primarily focuses on enhancing patients’ emotion regulation skills, awareness and self-acceptance. It is a combination of CBT and mindfulness meditation techniques and typically involves up to 20 group and/or individual sessions lasting 2 hours once a week.
When BED co-occurs with obesity there is debate as to whether it is better to tackle the physical issues relating to obesity (i.e. weight loss) or the psychological issues relating to BED behaviour first. Wilson et al., 2010 found that compared with behavioural weight loss treatments, both IPT and self-help based CBT were more effective in creating remission from binge eating behaviour in obese patients, 2 years after treatment.
Who Can I Speak To Further About Binge Eating Disorder?
At The Private therapy clinics we have CBT,IPT and DBT Therapists as well as Mindfulness Coaches who can provide help for binge eating disorder.
If you would like to talk to someone about an Binge Eating Disorder, please get in touch with the Private Therapy Clinic on Whatsapp message at: +447511116565 email, chat bot or book online to arrange an appointment.
Psych Central. (9th Mar 2015) 6 Triggers for Emotional Eating.Retrieved on 12th February, 2020 from, https://blogs.psychcentral.com/emotionally-sensitive/2015/03/six-triggers-for-emotional-eating/
Medical New Today. (15th Feb 2018) How Do I Stop Stress Eating?.Retrieved on 12th February, 2020 from, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320935.php#triggers
WebMD. (18th Mar 2018) Why Am I Binge Eating?.Retrieved on 12th February, 2020 from, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/why-binge-eating#2
Walden Eating Disorders (28thSept 2018) 8 Myths About Binge Eating Disorder. Retrieved on 18th August, 2020 from, https://www.waldeneatingdisorders.com/blog/8-myths-about-binge-eating-disorder/
Psychology Today (24thFeb 2015) 3 Myths About Eating Disorders Debunked. Retrieved on 18th August, 2020 from, https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/food-junkie/201502/3-myths-about-eating-disorders-debunked
Eating Disorder Hop (2017) Breaking 5 Myths of Binge Eating. Retrieved on 18th August, 2020 from, https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/binge-eating-disorder/breaking-5-myths-of-binge-eating
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