What is binge-eating disorder?
We all stuff ourselves from time to time. Sometimes we visit relatives and find our favorite dish at the table, sometimes we go to a buffet with a delicious spread, and sometimes we just eat too much because we think we're very hungry. Food is central to our lives and good food makes us happy, so it’s natural that one would overeat occasionally. However, some people feel a compulsive urge to binge regularly. They experience a lack of control during these episodes and are unable to stop. They continue to eat even when they are full, until they reach a point of considerable discomfort. Such people suffer from binge-eating disorder.
A person who suffers from binge-eating disorder uses food as a coping mechanism to deal with stress, anxiety or other emotional issues. However, they feel ashamed by their episode of uncontrollable binge-eating and end up feeling worse after. With timely treatment, you can recover from binge-eating disorder and restore healthy eating habits.
Note: People who suffer from bulimia also have episodes of binge-eating. However, they follow these up with compensatory behavior such as purging (inducing vomit) or excessive exercise. This is because people who suffer from bulimia have a desire to be thin and have misplaced body-image issues. People who have binge-eating disorder do not suffer from issues regarding their body image; they binge solely to cope with emotional distress.
What are the symptoms of binge-eating disorder?
The most common symptoms of binge-eating disorder are:
- Eating large amounts of food rapidly and feeling an inability to stop eating.
- Avoiding meals with others because the person is ashamed of their eating habit and feels that it is out of their control. They may even keep a hidden stash of food to eat when they are alone.
- They find that only eating comforts them in times of stress and anxiety. But after an episode of binge-eating they feel ashamed for overeating.
- They eat even when they are full, up to a point of considerable discomfort.
- They could be eating continuously throughout the day without any proper meal times.
What causes binge-eating disorder?
The exact cause of binge-eating disorder is not known, and it is usually a combination of emotional, psychological and environmental issues. A person suffering from other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety may develop binge-eating disorder. People who use food to cope with negative emotions or stressful situations (comfort eating), are susceptible to binge-eating disorder. Various childhood experiences can increase the likelihood of a person developing the disorder: if your parents rewarded you with treats (food) for certain achievements or gave you your favorite food or chocolate when you were feeling low, then there might be a chance of you using food to cope with negative situations later in life. Other negative childhood events such as suffering physical abuse or being bullied can also be a factor. Also, psychological factors such as low self-esteem play a role in someone developing this eating disorder.
Getting treatment for binge-eating disorder
Treatment for binge-eating disorder mainly involves psychological therapy to address your using food as a strategy to cope with emotional and psychological distress. Specialists use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy and dialectic behavioral therapy to treat binge-eating disorder. The goal of these therapies is to address your dependencies on food, restore healthy thoughts regarding food and weight, and help you develop better coping methods for dealing with situations that cause distress.
If you are overweight due to regular binge-eating, then you will be helped with a weight-loss program and taught healthy dietary practices to maintain healthy weight. If you have other mental health issues that trigger your binge-eating episodes, then you may be given medication for the underlying problem.
Caring for someone with binge-eating disorder
If you have noticed that a friend or loved one has been displaying signs of binge-eating disorder, then it is important that you try and talk to them about it. You may feel like you're being intrusive and your loved one may get angry or be in denial, but this should not dissuade you. Don't be forceful or talk down to them. Be supportive and let them know that you are there for them if they want to talk. Encourage them to seek help for their problem and offer to accompany them if they feel unsure. If they open up to you then it is important that you just listen to them; do not try to advise them or make them feel guilty about their situation. It is also essential that you set a good example for them in terms of proper eating habits, routine, exercise, etc. Try and ensure that people around them also do this and try to avoid talk about issues such as food, diets, weight, etc.
Coping with binge-eating disorder
The helplessness and guilt that you feel with binge-eating disorder can be extremely stressful but it is important to know that it is treatable and with the right help, you can recover from these urges. Once you have sought help for your problem, make sure you stick to the treatment plan and keep your doctor or therapist updated on your condition. Try and confide in a friend or family member and trust them to be there for you in times of distress; they may be of great help the next time you feel like binge-eating. When you feel low, try to distract yourself with an activity or just go out for a walk or talk to someone. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help you regulate your mood.