It’s natural for us to want to grab something sweet or salty every once in a while or on holidays, but when the indulgences get out of hand, it may be binge eating disorder.
What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder is when a person feels they have no control over food or feel they cannot stop once they start eating. When a person is ‘on a binge’ she/he will frequently consume an excessively large quantity of food at one sitting.
These binges are not just an occasional giving in to indulgences, but rather happening on a frequent enough basis that a person will recognize that there is a problem with food. Purging (bulimia) does not usually accompany binge eating disorder, but shame, guilt, and distress are common features.
Binge Eating Disorder is now recognized in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and includes the following symptoms and diagnostic criteria:
Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
- Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
- A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).
The binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal.
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
- Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
- Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
- The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.
- The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging) as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.
The causes of binge eating disorder are unknown, but psychological issues, genetics, environmental and biological factors increase your risk. Other disorders that are linked to binge eating can be depression, anxiety, bipolar, or substance abuse for just a few examples.
If you recognize symptoms of binge eating disorder, or know of a loved one struggling with binge eating, getting them help from a mental health counselor plus support in the community would be effective in preventing binge eating disorder from becoming worse or getting out of hand. A family member, friend, pastor, or school counselor can help you take the first steps of getting connected to a mental health counselor specializing in binge eating disorder.
What are the Binge Eating Disorder Treatment Options?
Treatment for binge eating disorder will help reduce or diminish feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-worth which will help with portion control and improve your relationship with food. Psychotherapy is a common and very effective treatment method for binge eating. Medications may also be part of the treatment plan as well.
Psychotherapy modalities that are included in binge eating disorder can include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
CBT is a form of psychotherapy that teaches a client how their attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, events, actions, and feelings are intertwined. By learning coping skills, mindfulness, and emotional regulation, they identify distortions in their cognitions (thoughts, beliefs and attitudes).
CBT will help a client identify the thoughts and/or events that trigger binge episodes and learn ways to reframe their interpretation around those thoughts and events to have a healthier relationship with food.
DBT is a modified version of cognitive behavioral therapy that utilizes both cognitive and behavioral forms of therapy. DBT was developed primarily as a use for Borderline Personality Disorder but it is quickly becoming more integrated into eating disorder treatment programs. DBT helps with binge eating by helping manage emotional dysregulation (which can lead to binge eating episodes) through acceptance and healthier coping skills.
Counseling is a really critical component for anyone wanting help with binge eating disorder. A mental health counselor will be important in helping you understand your relationship with food, triggers, and any past childhood trauma or events that may be contributing to your binge eating disorder. Other professionals that may also be an important part of your treatment team could include your primary care physician, nutritionist/dietician, or psychiatrist.
Here are some tips to help you manage binge eating disorder while you are in the process of getting connected with a mental health counselor:
- Practice ways to relieve stress which should include some type of exercise.
- Prepare meals in advance so you’re never caught off guard with hunger.
- Get enough sleep.
- Stay hydrated.
- Stop and try to identify what you are feeling before you binge.
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