Concerns About Binge Eating
Next week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a week dedicated to learning about eating disorders. The most common eating disorder is Binge Eating Disorder (BED), more common than anorexia nervosa or bulimia. In the United States, approximately 15 million people struggle with Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
Who has BED?
Although people with BED are usually obese, most obese people do not have BED. And normal-weight people can have BED too. An eating disorder is always an illnesses, not a lifestyle choice. Like all eating disorders, BED is characterized with preoccupation with food and weight. Eating disorders arise from a combination of behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, biological, and social factors.
People who have BED often became overweight at a younger age than those who don't have it. They usually lose and gain weight more often, a process called “yo-yo dieting.” People of any age can have BED, but it is diagnosed more often in the 46 to 55 age group. BED occurs in women and men and in people of every race.
What is BED?
BED is characterized by eating an abnormally large amount of food AND feeling out of control. Binge-food is usually eaten quickly and in privacy to the point of discomfort. Guilt and embarrassment are experienced AFTER the binge. To be diagnosed with BED, binges must occur two or more days a week for 6 months. But officially diagnosed or not, binging is a maladaptive eating pattern associated with psychological pain.
Science isn’t sure about what causes binge eating. As many as half of all binge eaters are depressed now or have been in the past. Research shows alterations in brain chemicals set the binge in motion. Those alterations come from years and years of coping and probably a genetic predisposition too. Either way, binging is a misguided attempt to self-sooth.
For most people, BED is associated with a history of severely restrictive diets. 'Severely restrictive diets' include extreme low calorie intakes, meal skipping, avoiding classes of food, and over-exercising. Some regard extreme dieting as a form of “purging” that doesn’t involve vomiting, laxatives or water pills. Binge eating-and-dieting have been called a 'Chicken or the Egg' dilemma.
Make it go away
Binge Eating Disorder is treated by mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists or clinical social workers. The most common forms of treatment are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. CBT teaches people how to change the way they feel about themselves and behave in tough situations. Interpersonal therapy deals with relationships, while drug therapy helps with depression. Researchers think there are probably two groups of BED patients: one with eating disturbances but less serious psychological problems, and another that displays the same disturbances but has more entrenched psychological difficulties.
Binge eaters generally benefit from a weight-loss program that takes an eating disorders approach. In actual practice, there are three schools of thought about how binge-eaters should eat. There is the Overeaters Anonymous Twelve-Step approach, the abstain-from-sugar-and-refined-flour addiction approach, and the legalize-all-foods approach also known as Intuitive Eating. No one method has been the key to success for all.
Once treated psychologically, the binge-eater should attempt to emulate healthy eaters. They are wise to liberalize their intakes, get in touch with their body signals, train themselves to eat regular meals, and give themselves permission to eat all foods.
Read more about Binge Eating Disorder from the National Institutes of Health.
Meanwhile, you can screen yourself for an eating disorder by using one or more of the screening questionnaires. Try this Eating disorder Screen for Primary care (ESP) tool.
- Are you satisfied with your eating patterns? (A “no” to this question is classified as an abnormal response).
- Do you ever eat in secret? (A “yes” to this and all other questions is classified as an abnormal response).
- Does your weight affect the way you feel about yourself?
- Have any members of your family suffered with an eating disorder?
- Do you currently suffer with or have you ever suffered in the past with an eating disorder?
If you have no abnormal responses or only one, an eating disorder is unlikely, whereas 3 or more abnormal responses indicate that you need additional assessment.
Are you concerned about BED or another eating disorder?