What to Look For When Choosing a Binge Eating Disorder Treatment Program

Recovery from mental health disorders is no easy path, and binge eating disorder is no different. There are myriad potential pitfalls, not the least of which is that every person receiving treatment is different and requires a unique treatment program. This is especially true when the program is geared for adolescents, who need even more specialized treatment due to their changing bodies and personalities as they grow into adulthood. That being said, there are plenty of benchmarks that indicate whether a BED treatment center is the right choice for you or your loved one

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

The defining characteristic associated with binge eating disorder a repeated, compulsive engagement in binge eating episodes. These episodes, which are normally done in private, are situations in which a person will eat a large amount of food in a short period. Often, they will eat beyond the point of being satiated or full, and may even experience pain after an episode.

BED is commonly linked to a history of dieting and a poor body image. During a binge eating episode, a distinct feeling often arises where the individual feels a lack of control over their actions. Following an episode, there may be strong feelings of guilt about eating, which further fuel the negative self-image.

What Sets Binge Eating Disorder Apart From Other Eating Disorders?

While BED shares some qualities with other kinds of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, such as a distorted body image and preoccupation with food and eating. They oftentimes also involve a feeling of lack of control and feelings of guilt, shame, or distress surrounding disordered eating behaviors. A distinct difference between BED and other major forms of eating disorders, though, is that BED does not typically contain self-starvation or purging before or after the binge eating episodes.

Purging is normally associated with the more-publicized disorder bulimia nervosa and might involve the use of laxatives, self-induced vomiting, excessive or extreme exercising, or some combination of these. It is important to keep in mind that people with binge eating disorder usually do not purge.

When the most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was released in 2013, BED was finally recognized as an official behavioral disorder, after decades of being downplayed. Previously, it was lumped in with other less-common eating disorders in a category known as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). This was troubling not only because of the frequent occurrence of BED but because previous to being recognized, it was much more difficult to secure binge eating disorder treatment through insurance programs.

How Common is Binge Eating Disorder?

Although most people think of bulimia or anorexia when they hear the term “eating disorder,” binge eating disorder is in actuality the most common eating disorder in the United States (and in other countries like the UK). According to Healthline, an estimated 2.8 million people in the US show the symptoms of binge eating disorder. In fact, research by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) found that two percent of men and 3.5 percent of women who participated in a 2007 study had experienced BED in the past or were currently struggling with the disorder.

What Are the Risk Factors for Developing Binge Eating Disorder?

Although obesity is often linked to BED, an individual’s weight is not considered a risk factor when it comes to binge eating disorder. A preoccupation with one’s weight and body size, however, is frequently a contributing factor. A pattern of repeating dieting or trying out many kinds of fad diets is often noted in a BED patient’s psych history.

There is some evidence that indicates that the interaction between binge eating episodes and the brain’s release of dopamine can trigger a case of BED. According to a study from 2011, a person’s dopamine levels can affect the amount of food they consume. For example, the dopamine released after eating a greasy cheeseburger, which triggers the pleasure centers in the brain, can cause cravings to eat the same thing again and again, becoming a repeated and compulsive behavior.

Health Concerns Regarding Binge Eating Disorder

In the long term, there are several health concerns associated with binge eating disorder, many of which are related to obesity. Aside from the physical problems that may arise, BED also co-occurs with depression and various anxiety disorders such as OCD.

Some of the health concerns associated with binge eating disorder include:

  • heart disease
  • high cholesterol
  • sleep apnea
  • high blood pressure
  • osteoarthritis
  • diabetes

It can be difficult for a medical doctor to determine whether a person has BED based solely on these symptoms because a person without BED can have any or all of them. However, if combined with secretive behavior (hiding food for later binges, for example) and a pattern of dieting without weight loss, a diagnosis might be made.

Getting Started on the Path to Recovery

The first step in BED treatment is recognizing and accepting that there is a problem. It’s more difficult than it sounds – since binge eating episodes are usually hidden and the feelings of shame can be overwhelming, people with BED often deny there is an issue, even to the people closest to them.

Although binge eating disorder’s updated status in the DSM-5 helped raise general awareness of the disorder among general practitioners and the public at large, it is estimated only about three percent of people who struggle with BED actually receive any form of professional treatment for it. Thankfully, this is changing. More and more doctors and therapists who don’t specialize in eating disorders can correctly diagnose the disorder and help their patients get help.

Choosing a Binge Eating Disorder Treatment Center

Now that you’re armed with more knowledge about BED, it’s time to consider what you should look for in a treatment facility. Residential or outpatient? Local or in a remote location? There are a variety of options, but every potential client should keep a few key criteria in mind.

Compassionate and Caring Staff

No one wants to be treated like just another piece of work to be done by a recovery staff. BED recovery clients need to feel respected, cared for, heard, and understood. Even though it is understood by many within the medical community that individuals with binge eating disorder are struggling with a disorder, the client may have felt marginalized or misunderstood. The therapists, doctors, nurses, and other staff at a binge eating disorder facility must demonstrate compassion to facilitate a full recovery.

Instead of a “sink or swim,” tough love sort of mentality, you should seek out a center that puts a premium on listening to and understand their charges. If trying to help someone they love, family members should research any facility they are considering, to ensure the philosophy of the binge eating treatment center matches the treatment they want their loved one to experience.

Individualized Treatment Plan with Plenty of Options

At different stages in binge eating disorder recovery, clients will need different levels of care. For example, a person entering treatment for the first time after years of binge eating episodes might benefit from a 24/7 residential program where their entire focus can be on recovery. A person facing a relapse after months of ED-free living wouldn’t require that level of care, however.

For this reason, a facility that can match an existing program to any necessary level of care is your best option. It’s extremely common for a client to complete a residential program and then engage in step-down care in the form of outpatient treatment.

While an individual can certainly obtain residential treatment from one facility and outpatient care from a different one, familiarity with the treatment philosophy, staff, and even peers they’ve had group therapy sessions with offers a continuity that assists the recovery process.

Safe, Comfortable, and Cozy Environment

Many people feel trepidation about going to any kind of mental health treatment facility, largely because of the outdated notion that the facilities are cold, sterile, fluorescent-lit hospitals (as seen in films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Girl, Interrupted). In a modern, quality eating disorder treatment center, nothing could be further from the truth. To facilitate a sense of comfort and safety, a good treatment center will instead provide a home-like, warm setting.

You may also want to research what kind of activities the locale can provide. Depending on the location, nature walks in the hills, or visits to the beach can complement the ongoing therapy sessions, and excursions like grocery shopping or controlled restaurant visits can put the lessons learned in therapy into real-life situations.

Medical Staff and Treatment That’s Coordinated with Therapy

As mentioned previously, BED can cause a variety of health consequences, some of which might require close medical care. Health complications, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, need constant medical supervision. Treating the whole person — physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally — is of vital importance so having access to medical treatment is necessary.

When doing your research, make sure you examine the medical treatment options the center provides – this goes for inpatient, residential, and outpatient options. These options are a part of what’s known as a holistic approach; one that treats the whole person.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Conditions

Building on the philosophy that treating the entire person in a holistic manner is the best way to assist in binge eating disorder recovery, any effective program must be able to treat co-occurring disorders. As we mentioned earlier mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and OCD, as well as substance abuse and addiction issues, are common in people with BED. If unaddressed these disorders can trigger a relapse into disordered eating behavior, negating the progress made. Therefore, having this type of treatment available on-site is crucial to providing the continuity of care that results in long-term recovery.

Reach Out Sooner Rather than Later

As a nationwide leader in compassionate eating disorder treatment, Oliver-Pyatt Centers has established itself as a leader in treating eating disorders using an evidence-based approach that preserves our clients’ dignity as individuals. Offering both residential and outpatient treatment options, Oliver-Pyatt Centers provides a talented and caring staff, a comfortable setting, top-notch medical treatment, and numerous off-site activities that set it apart from others.