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  • Writer's pictureKatie Porter

Binge Eating Disorder

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

I have shared with you information regarding the Anorexia and Bulimia side of eating disorders so today I wanted to talk about the other side; Binge Eating Disorder. This article is more of an informative and “cut to the chase” kind of article, meant to lend outcomes from research on the topic of eating disorders and Binge Eating Disorder.

Research and findings with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) are relatively new in comparison to other eating disorders but just as substantial in terms of the emotions involved, and finding the path to recovery. There is an extensive amount of research related to Anorexia and Bulimia. For a long time, BED was misdiagnosed, or put in a “catchall” category within the umbrella of eating disorders.

With that said, it is interesting to note that since BED was officially claimed a diagnosis it has become the most widely diagnosed eating disorder, above other eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.

So What Is Binge Eating Disorder and What Does It Look Like?

Some describe it as “an irresistible urge to eat”. Binge eating usually occurs in a discreet

amount of time and must include the feeling of loss of control as a diagnosable factor. Other characteristics of BED include three or more of these:

  • Rapidly eating food

  • Eating until uncomfortably full

  • Eating large quantities of food when not necessarily hungry

  • Eating alone to avoid embarrassment or judgment from others

  • Reports of distress after the binge

  • Followed by intense feelings of self-disgust, guilt and/or depression

Frequency plays a key role in diagnosing Binge-Eating Disorder as well:

  •  At least one time a week for three months

This disorder affects approximately 3 million adults in the U.S. with an age onset of 21 years old. Binge Eating Disorder is also two times more prevalent than Anorexia and Bulimia combined. Over 50% of individuals with BED are medically obese, although this factor is not necessary for diagnosis.

Fact: Not all who are diagnosed with BED are obese. Though, typically with BED medical findings suggest high blood pressure, headaches, shortness of breath, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, joint pain, insomnia and in severe cases death.

Also common alongside BED are depression, anxiety, substance use, PTSD, and Bipolar Disorders.

Emotions Behind BED

There is a lot of emotional turmoil that lies behind BED. It may literally feel as if there is a force that has come over you, “like a trance” or “loss of consciousness”. When bingeing, it is common to eat rapidly, and not take time to enjoy or fully chew the food. Those with BED can be pretty good at hiding it as well, and will often binge alone to avoid the embarrassment of being seen partaking in the behaviors.

The feeling of loss of control varies by the individual and can occur before, during, and/or after the binge, but it leaves them feeling defeated and shameful. Many individuals believe that it is unavoidable and inescapable to attempt to “control” the volume of food they eat, or the urges to binge.

How many calories are involved in a binge? The answer might surprise you. It does not take 6,000 calories to constitute a binge. On average, it’s only about 1,000-2,000 calories in one sitting.

It is important to distinguish between Binge Eating Disorder and Emotional Eating. Emotional Eating is more of a strategy people use to cope, turning food into a way to handle their emotions. BED necessitates a loss of control, eating large amounts of food rapidly until uncomfortably full, and marked distress regarding the binge as key determining factors.

History of Binge Eating

Interestingly enough, binge eating is recorded throughout ancient history but it was not until the 1950’s that it started gaining attention. And it wasn’t until the development of the DSM-5 (2014) that it was even recognized as a stand-alone disorder!

Common Triggers

  • Isolation

  • Boredom

  • Unstructured time or lack of eating schedule

  • Alcohol use

  • Dieting

Causes of BED

While the exact etiology is unknown it is believed that a combination of genetic, environmental and neurobiological factors are involved. Such things as:

  • Early life stress

  • Trauma/PTSD

  • Separation issues

  • Maladaptive affect regulation -(the ability to effectively assess and regulate emotions and reactions in environment)

On the neurobiological side, research has shown a decrease in dopamine, opioid dysfunction, and decreased impulse control regions of the brain. Studies have shown that from a neurochemical standpoint, the brain structure of someone with BED shows similarities to one who has alcoholism. The two have been referred to as similar experiences in terms of triggers, compulsions, and addictive qualities.

Where To Go From Here?

If you suffer from BED it is likely you are also suffering from other emotional issues and would benefit from seeking therapy. In therapy, you can get in touch with mindfulness– becoming aware of your emotional and physical self to help in your feelings of loss of control.

Bringing all the senses together into consciousness in general is a difficult task for anyone. It is important to learn how to do this while eating, to discover the connections between your triggers and your reactions, and to uncover what hunger and fullness cues feel like again. To be able to enjoy food again and not let it have control over your life.

A lot of healing also involves education, self monitoring, scheduling meal times, and working with your therapist on distorted thoughts and beliefs about food, body image, and self esteem.

Medications can be of help in certain circumstances but should be seen as temporary.

If you are struggling with what you think might have Binge Eating Disorder, have issues with over-eating or emotional eating it is time to make the first step in reclaiming your power. I encourage you to make the call!

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