What is binge eating disorder?
When most people think of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa tend to come to mind. However, it is believed that more people suffer with binge eating disorder (BED) than anorexia or bulimia. It has been estimated that of those suffering with an eating disorder, 22% have binge eating disorder. This blog will explain what binge eating disorder is and what to do if you are worried about your own binge eating behaviours.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious illness. It is an eating disorder that causes people to recurrently eat a large amount of food in a short period of time (known as bingeing or binge eating), often to the point of discomfort. It causes people to feel a loss of control, shame and guilt. BED can lead people to feel very low, stressed, isolate themselves and to feel dissatisfied in their everyday life.
BED does not discriminate. It can affect anyone, irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity or background. However, binge eating disorder - like many eating disorders - typically develops in people during their late teens to mid-twenties. Unlike bulimia, binge eating is not followed by purging behaviours, such as vomiting.
BED is characterised by eating faster than normal, cravings, eating until the point of physical discomfort, eating a lot of food despite not being hungry, eating secretly to avoid the embarrassment of being seen to be eating a large amount of food in front of others, or feeling shame, guilt or disgust after a binge episode.
BED is not a choice. People suffering with this eating disorder do not choose to binge. In fact, many people with BED feel detached from what they are doing when bingeing. It is therefore not simply someone overindulging. Those suffering are often unable to stop during a binge and it is far from enjoyable – it can be very distressing for the sufferer.
Having BED does not necessarily mean a person will be overweight. A person with BED may be restrictive in their food intake outside of their binge episodes. Someone with BED may also eat regular meals as they normally would, outside of their binges. Restricting food intake as a result of bingeing behaviour can frequently lead to bingeing because of hunger and feeling deprived of food. This can cause a vicious circle – a person feels guilty for bingeing and so restricts their food, then feels low because of hunger and deprivation, and so binges again. This can leave people feeling stuck and hopeless in their binge eating behaviours.
What should you do if you are struggling with binge eating?
A person is likely to be diagnosed with BED if they have at least one binge eating episode per week for at least three months. However, not everyone will fit into such a stringent diagnosis criterion and so if someone is distressed about their binge eating behaviour, they should seek help. Someone with BED may not only be struggling with its psychological effects, such as feeling anxious or depressed because of their illness, but also physical effects. BED is associated with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is therefore very important to seek help if you feel you may have BED.
The first thing to do is contact your GP. A GP will be able to assess your needs and refer you for further treatment if needed. This could include having support with guided self-help programmes or being referred for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT will aim to help the person living with BED to modify their dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs about themselves, which are linked to the binge eating behaviours. Medication may also be prescribed to help with the way someone is feeling surrounding their BED.
There is no single approach in the treatment for BED. Everyone’s experience is individual and so treatment needs to suit the sufferer. A holistic approach to treatment is usually best. There are many therapeutic approaches to help someone living with binge eating disorder, so speaking to a counsellor who works with people with eating disorders to help them to understand their emotions surrounding their binge eating behaviours can be useful. The first important step is recognising there is a problem.
Recovery is usually more likely to be successful if BED is caught early so do not be reluctant to seek help if you are struggling with binge eating. It can feel like there is no way out when suffering with an eating disorder but these illnesses can be overcome, so never lose hope.