What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder is a type of eating disorder. It involves the consumption of large amounts of food in short periods of time, often even if the individual isn’t hungry. Most people overeat occasionally, often on holidays or special occasions. But, people with binge eating disorder feel unable to control their eating in an unhealthy way.
While binge eating disorder was only recently officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, it’s one of the most prevalent eating disorders today. It commonly starts during the late teen years or early 20s for women and during midlife for men.
Emotional distress is a common cause of binge eating episodes. While the binge may initially provide the individual a sense of relief, it’s typically followed by feelings of shame, guilt, and a loss of control. Additionally, people with binge eating disorder don’t often compensate for excess calories by purging, exercising excessively, or taking laxatives. This is the case with bulimia, another recognized eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder can be extremely damaging to your physical and mental health. Thankfully, this disorder is treatable. By seeking help, people with binge eating disorder can regain a feeling of control over their eating and lessen feelings of shame associated with eating.
Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
Recurring binge eating episodes are the key factor in a binge eating disorder diagnosis. Binge eating episodes occur within a two-hour window and involve consuming more food than the average person would eat in the same time frame. During a binge eating episode, one often feels unable to control what or how much they’re eating.
The following characteristics are common in a binge eating episode:
- Becoming full to the point of discomfort
- Eating more quickly than usual
- Eating high quantities of food without being hungry
- Eating alone for feelings of shame or embarrassment
- Feelings of disgust, guilt, or depression after eating
Other signs that are often present in people with binge eating disorder include:
- Fear or discomfort eating in front of others
- Disengaging from loved ones and regular activities
- Frequent dieting and/or fasting
- Irregular eating behaviors, such as skipping meals or eating at abnormal times
- Extreme concern over weight and body image
- Low self-esteem
- Food rituals, such as only eating one type of food/food group
- Weight fluctuations, both up and down
- Hoarding or hiding food
- Changes in routine to make time for binge eating episodes
- Distress over overeating and body weight
- Preoccupation with food, eating, and/or dieting
How is Binge Eating Disorder Treated?
Binge eating disorder can be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health. But, treatment can help you make a full recovery and repair your relationship with food.
Successful treatment methods binge eating disorder can vary from person to person. An individualized treatment plan is the best way to address a patient’s unique needs. Therapy and/or medications are the most common treatments for binge eating disorder.
Therapy for binge eating disorder may include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and dialectical behavior therapy. These are all forms of psychotherapy and aim to help patients replace negative thought patterns and behaviors with positive alternatives.
In cognitive behavioral therapy, people with binge eating disorder can gain a stronger sense of control over their behaviors and eating habits. Additionally, CBT is helpful in learning how to cope with binge-eating triggers, like depression and low self-esteem.
Interpersonal psychotherapy is centered on patients’ relationships with others. By strengthening one's interpersonal abilities, this therapy method aims to improve relationships and reduce stress caused by interactions with others. This can help people address potential triggers of binge eating episodes.
Dialectical behavioral therapy is helpful in the management of stress, negative emotions, and relationships. By reducing daily stressors and providing an outlet to process negative experiences, this therapy method can reduce the urge to binge eat.
Some medications have shown to help in the treatment of binge eating disorder. It’s important to talk about the potential risks and side effects of medications before adding them to your treatment plan for binge eating disorder.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.