Understanding Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder characterised by recurrent episodes of binge eating, whereby a binge is defined as eating an amount of food that is larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time whilst lacking a sense of control. These episodes of binging can feel chaotic and highly distressing for the individual and often is followed by feelings of guilt and shame.
BED is the most common eating disorder in Australia and it affects people of all of all ages, backgrounds and genders and can occur regardless of one’s weight and shape. BED can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health and quality of life. It can affect one’s social life, relationships, work/education, and the ability to do the things that give them joy and a sense of purpose.
What causes Binge Eating Disorder?
As with all eating disorders, the factors which contribute to the development of BED are complex can include factors such as a genetic predisposition as well as psychological, environmental, social, and cultural factors.
Binge eating can often develop as a coping mechanism in response to emotions or difficult life circumstance and can serve the function of numbing emotions or being a distraction to life’s challenges.
Dieting and concerns about weight and shape is another major risk factor for the development of BED. Restricting food causes a series of psychological and physiological changes to occur in the body as a survival response to prevent starvation. This can lead to extreme hunger, preoccupation of food and can initiate a drive to eat large quantities of food. Having strict dieting rules can also lead to binge eating once the rule is eventually “broken” which then initiates restrictive eating practices once more. This pattern is commonly known as the binge-restrict cycle.
Binge Eating Disorder signs and symptoms:
In addition to the recurring episode of binge eating and feeling of lacking control whilst eating, other signs and symptoms include:
- Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight
- Extreme body dissatisfaction and shame about appearance
- Feelings of extreme distress, sadness, anxiety and guilt, particularly after eating or after a binge episode
- Depression, anxiety or irritability
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling tired and not sleeping well
- Feeling bloated or constipated
- Increased sensitivity to comments about food, weight, body shape and exercise
- Secretive behaviour relating to eating, such as hiding food and wrappers
- Evading questions about eating, food and weight
- Withdrawal from activities that were previously enjoyed
- Erratic behaviour including stealing food or spending lots of money on food
What to do if you suspect you have binge eating disorder
If you suspect you have BED, a great first step is scheduling an appointment with your GP to discuss your concerns and treatment options available. It may be helpful to find a GP who has experience in eating disorders, however if you feel most comfortable seeing your usual GP that is still a great option.
Due to the complex nature of BED, it is likely that your GP will recommend further support from other health professionals such as a psychologist and dietitian. Treatment is often targeted at understanding and addressing the underlying causes for binge eating and can include evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and dialectical behaviour therapy
Working with a dietitian skilled in eating disorder recovery can be helpful in understanding and repairing your relationship with food and your body. A dietitian can assist in breaking down and overcoming food rules, help with a regular eating pattern to overcome the binge-restrict cycle and assist with building food knowledge and awareness without avoidance and fear of food.
It can feel overwhelming if you suspect that you may have an eating disorder. You may have tried countless times to try and gain “control” of your eating only to find your efforts to be short lived or feel impossible. As discussed, BED is a complex mental health condition which can be caused by many different factors. Whilst recovery is certainly possible, stopping binge eating is not a simple task and, in most instances, require extra support and guidance.