Binge eating disorder (BED) or compulsive over-eating is a poorly understood eating disorder, thought to affect over a million suffers in the UK.
Binge eating disorder is a serious mental illness, where sufferers compulsively consume abnormal amounts of food, seemingly unable to stop and with loss of control in one sitting. A binge typically involves eating very fast, eating when a person is no longer hungry, eating alone or secretly and often in a pre-planned way, where a person may have bought large quantities of “special” food.
Sufferers report feelings of guilt, shame, and self-disgust after an episode of bingeing. Unlike bulimia, binge eating disorder is not characterised by purging or excessive exercise after a binge. However, a sufferer may attempt to restrict their food intake, or to eat little afterwards, to compensate for the amount of food consumed.
Guidelines in the medical manual, The Diagnostic Statistical Manual, state that episodes of binge eating need to happen twice a week to warrant a diagnosis of Binge eating disorder (BED). Binge Eating disorder typically starts in the late teens to early twenties, although it can occur at any age. It is a chronic disease and can last for many years.
FLike other eating disorders, Binge eating disorder is more common in women than in men. However, it is now thought to be the most common eating disorder among men.
Although Binge eating disorder can occur in men and women of normal weight, it often leads to unwanted weight gain or obesity, which in itself can reinforce further episodes of compulsive eating. The negative feelings which usually accompany a binge can often lead a sufferer to continue to use food as a way to cope with these painful emotional states, leading to further, entrenched binge/depressive cycles.
In addition to unwanted weight gain, Binge eating disorder has serious short-term and long-term effects physical effects. These include:
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There is no one cause of Binge eating disorder or compulsive overeating. Experts believe a mixture of biological and environmental factors contribute to the condition. However, eating disorders tend to run in families, often occurring when members are preoccupied with food and weight. In some cases, families inadvertently set the stage for eating disorders, offering food as a source of comfort, reward or nurture.
However, there is a strong correlation between Binge eating disorder and depression and other psychological disorders such as anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. There is also a strong link between abuse and the development of Binge eating disorders.
Binge eaters typically report feelings of depression. Many report a sense of shame or self-hatred around the way they look, as well as their out-of-control food habits. When someone is depressed and they binge eat, it can be hard to know if one condition causes the other or whether they are unrelated. Medical experts believe about half of the population who suffer from a Binge eating disorder have a mood disorder such as depression. Sufferers will then binge to number the sad and hopeless feelings. The same genes involved in depression may play a role in eating disorders and anxiety, according to research from the University of Carolina. They also found that Binge eating disorders may be linked to the same brain chemicals that affect depression too.
It is perfectly possible to recover from binge eating disorders and to have a healthy relationship with food and body image. However, it is vital to get specialist help and to tackle the underlying emotional issues which underpin the condition.
Psychotherapy, with a trained therapist who specialises in eating disorders and addiction, can help a sufferer with some of the long-term issues such as depression, anxiety and low self-worth. An experienced psychotherapist can help sufferers deal with childhood traumas – abuse, family separations, bullying – which still carry a negative effect in the present day.
Group therapy, including a 12-step support group such as Overeaters Anonymous, can be very useful for anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Group support helps sufferers reduce the shame and isolation of a condition such as a Binge eating disorder, or compulsive overeating. It can provide momentum and ongoing support for anyone beginning to make changes in their relationship with food and emotions.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (“CBT”) can be useful in helping sufferers understand the thoughts and feelings which influence their behaviours around food. Most specialist psychotherapists will offer some CBT in their work with eating disorder sufferers. It is always important to ask a therapist what approaches they offer.
It may be that some nutritional changes are required. Whilst recovery from Binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating is not about the right diet, there are certain foods that may be useful to eliminate. Salty, fatty, and sugary foods and combinations of all three activate the dopamine neurons in the brain, producing feelings of pleasure and the impulse to eat those all over again. The same is thought to be true of refined carbohydrates – white bread, pastries, dough-based foodstuffs.
Some sufferers find it useful to cut out completely these sorts of foods, while they are settling into a pattern of recovery. Sometimes it is possible to re-introduce these foods in moderation. A trained therapist will help you identify which foods are triggers for you and to determine, if and how these can be incorporated into a recovery plan.
It may also be necessary to look at patterns with alcohol and drugs – both recreational and prescription drugs. Many sufferers with eating disorders have a dependency on alcohol and/or substances. It is crucial that co-occurring addictions are treated alongside the eating disorder, or the sufferer will soon fall back into disordered ways of eating.
However, it is important to remember that many people suffering from Binge eating disorder or compulsive overeating do recover. If you or a friend/family member are struggling with Binge eating, compulsive overeating, bulimia or anorexia, please get in touch with Help 4 Addiction.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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