By Sam Harrison
Do you know what Binge Eating Disorder is?
BED affects thousands of people worldwide, but very few people outside of professional treatment circles know the illness even exists.
There are no lifetime movies about Binge Eating Disorder, or BED as it is commonly called. Unlike anorexia and bulimia, which have both been covered in the news, books, movies, and online first-hand accounts of recovery, Binge Eating Disorder flies way under the radar. And yet, according to the article Eating disorders as a public health emergency, written back in 2006, up to 5% of women worldwide engage in binge eating.
According to NEDA, the National Eating Disorder Association of the United States, BED is characterized by recurring episodes of binge eating, without the purging after the binge that accompanies bulimia. A binge is defined by two traits:
- Eating a larger than normal amount in a set period of time
- A sense of lack of control over the bingeing and being unable to stop.
In addition, the binge eating episodes are associated with several of other characteristics:
- Eating more rapidly than normal
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food despite not feeling hungry
- Eating alone out of embarrassment
- Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after a binge
Why is Binge Eating Disorder ignored?
BED wasn’t even formally recognized as a separate eating disorder in the United States until 2013, when the DSM-5 was released. In contrast, Anorexia and Bulimia have both been included as eating disorders for several decades.
Often, symptoms of the disorder are dismissed by family members as “lack of self control.” This judgement amplifies the guilt and shame individuals with BED feel about their binges. Despite evidence that you can be healthy at any size and that “calories in = calories out” is a myth, people still associate fat with evidence of lack of discipline. This simply isn’t true.
Healthcare professionals not specialized in eating disorders often fail to recognize BED, or dismiss its importance, as this writer describes when she disclosed her condition to her nurse.
Even in body-positive circles, BED can be ignored or stigmatized because it doesn’t align with a philosophy of “eat what you want, when you want.” But when you suffer from BED, overeating can make you feel ill, ashamed, and out of control. Like other eating disorders, BED is an illness that has both physical and psychological components, and should be treated as such.
The Dangers of Dieting with BED
The body positive movement rejects dieting for weight loss. You are beautiful at any weight, and the diet industry’s efforts to tell us otherwise in order to sell beauty products is harmful to women (and men) everywhere. And not to mention that diets don’t work. In addition, dieting and restrictive eating practices can make bingeing tendencies worse by accentuating the guilt bingers feel about food.
For this reason, restrictive eating or dieting for weight loss is especially harmful to people who suffer from BED, because these restrictive behaviors often trigger more bingeing in the long run. Like any eating disorder, recovery from BED is a long and involved process. People with the disorder need support, time, and a treatment that works for them.
Ways to Start Healing:
One option to start your path to healing is to develop intuitive eating practices. Intuitive eating relies on listening to your body’s hunger cues, eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. Intuitive eating does not forbid any foods, or label foods as “bad” or “good” the way traditional diet practices do.
Rather, the idea behind intuitive eating is to allow yourself to eat the foods your body wants, when it wants them. After a certain amount of time, your body (and mind) will stop craving foods that were previously restricted and naturally desire a healthier, more balanced diet.
Intuitive eating can be difficult, especially at first, so don’t be hard on yourself if you have trouble putting it into practice. It takes time to relearn how to eat and be at peace with yourself and your body, and being angry at yourself for “failing” doesn’t help; it just turns the positivity of intuitive eating into another failed diet. Know that you are strong, and beautiful at any size, and that your body will tell you what it needs when you learn to listen to it again.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Another possible treatment that has been proven effective for BED is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that involves three phases: the behavioral phase, the cognitive phase, and the maintenance and relapse prevention phase. CBT helps patients establish normal eating behaviors and addresses body image issues.
A nutrition counselor can help a patient who suffers from BED restore a healthy and balanced diet. A body-positive nutritional counselor can help you listen to your body’s wants and needs without focusing on weight loss.
The most important component to healing is to find a treatment that works for you. There is no one size fits all path to overcoming binge eating disorder.
If you are suffering from Binge Eating Disorder, it’s important to remember that this is an illness: it can be treated, and you are not to blame for your having BED. Feelings of guilt are commonly associated with binging behavior, but reaching out for help can make a difference.
US – NEDA
UK – B-eat
Ireland - BodyWhys
Canada – NEDIC