While we all eat too much occasionally, regularly overeating and an inability to control the urge to eat may indicate an individual has binge eating disorder (BED). Although individuals suffering from binge eating disorder may feel powerless to suppress their compulsion to overeat, BED is a treatable condition that responds well to a variety of “people first, therapist second” counseling therapies meant to help you understand why you experience BED episodes and how to manage them successfully.
Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
Typically developing during adolescence and early adulthood, binge eating disorder causes people to eat large amounts of food when they are not hungry. Continuing to eat when full, eating rapidly without being aware of tasting the food and forgetting how much food has been eaten are signs of BED. The main difference between binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa is that people with BED do not generally force themselves to vomit, exercise excessively or take laxatives to control weight gain.
A binge eating episode can overwhelm a person at any time but usually occurs when that person is feeling anxious and depressed. They find that eating food eases unwanted emotions, acting as an “escape” from unpleasant thoughts and feelings. After the first few binge eating episodes, the person essentially becomes addicted to binge eating. However, once the episode is over and reality sets in, they feel worse emotionally and physically. A cycle of depression/anxiety, binge eating, feeling better for a while and then feeling terrible again gets quickly established and extremely difficult to break.
Other behavioral characteristics of binge eating disorder include:
- Stockpiling “comfort” food to ease anxiety over not having food when the compulsion to eat overwhelms them
- Eating normally when around family and friends but binge eating later in private
- Thinking about eating constantly
- Withdrawing from social events to spend more time alone to binge eat
- Gaining weight
What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating is a psychosocial disorder arising from multiple risk factors affecting people as children and adolescents. For example, social/cultural risk factors involve the pressure to remain thin, being raised by parents who used food to reward or punish and constant exposure to comments critical about appearance.
Clinical depression correlates with the development of binge eating disorder in teenagers, along with feelings of isolation, loneliness, low self-esteem, and body dysphoria. In addition, ongoing research indicates that biological abnormalities may contribute to BED, such as a dysfunctional hypothalamus or genetic mutations promoting a food addiction. The neurotransmitter responsible for regulating appetite–serotonin–is also implicated in the evolution of binge eating disorder.
How Is Binge Eating Disorder Treated?
BED treatment begins with counseling sessions guided by recovered staff who understand how difficult and stressful it is to cope with a binge eating disorder. With patience and compassion, therapists help those with BED rediscover their core sense of self, how to differentiate between their “healthy self” and “eating disorder self” and why they feel compelled to turn to food for comfort. Evidence-based psychotherapeutic techniques address underlying conflicts fueling binge eating disorder by providing coping tools to those who have suffered emotional or physical abuse as children or teenagers, neglected to seek treatment for mental health problems and have difficulty re-directing displaced anxiety, anger, and depression.
Recovered staff members specializing in treating binge eating disorder cultivate feelings of empathy and trust with their clients. For those with BED, it is often hard to trust others because of a dysfunctional relationship with their parents, with influential family members or even significant others in their lives. Cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior skills training, acceptance and commitment therapy and using art therapy to express and learn about suppressed emotions are just a few of the powerful treatment programs designed to treat binge eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder can be treated successfully with experienced, nonjudgmental help from people who know first-hand what is it like to deal with BED. Recovering from food addiction is possible when people with BED take the initiative to reach out for sympathetic and understanding support provided by counselors who will remain by their side through the first counseling session and beyond.