Did you know that Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is one of the newest diagnoses to be grouped under the umbrella of eating disorders? BED affects approximately 2.8 million adults in the United States. Both women and men are being diagnosed with BED at an alarming rate and it is now more prevalent than anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa combined. So, why is BED becoming so widespread?
WHAT IS BED?
Binge eating is defined as eating a large amount of food in a short period of time (i.e. two hours) coupled with a lack of control during the episode where the subject feels as if they cannot stop eating or even control what or how much they are eating. BED can be diagnosed when these episodes of binging are recurrent. On average, binging episodes occur at least once a week for three months. Several other factors typically experienced with BED include eating until you feel so full that you are uncomfortable, eating large amounts of food when you’re not physically hungry, eating alone or hiding your binging due to feelings of shame or embarrassment, and having feelings of guilt or other emotional disturbances after eating.
It is important to recognize that BED is its own separate eating disorder and does not occur simultaneously with other eating disorders, like bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. BED is not associated with making yourself throw up or taking laxatives to rid your body of what you ate, like in bulimia, nor is it associated with severe food restriction, like in anorexia.
WHAT CAUSES BED?
Research is showing that BED is caused by a complex combination of socio-cultural, psychological, and genetic factors.
The most influential factor that contributes to BED is dieting. Culturally, dieting and losing weight have become the way to “be healthy”. Dieting in our society makes us think that we need to avoid specific foods to lose weight or reach our goals. We learn to avoid these “trigger foods”, in order to diet the “right way”, in order to lose weight. However, research has found time and time again that this is simply not true. Diets are inherently not sustainable since they are based on restriction, but because we are told this is the way to “health”, we feel like we have failed when we cannot adhere to the plan. When we restrict or avoid foods that we truly enjoy eating, we tend to lose control and scarf the food down the second we get it, as if we will never have the opportunity to eat these things again. This way of thinking leads to feelings of embarrassment and shame that we can’t “stick to the plan” or “control ourselves”. Binging leads us to feel terrible both mentally and physically, almost as if we are “hung-over” from overeating. Then the cycle starts again… eat, repent, and repeat.
Psychologically, having low self-esteem and/or a negative body image can contribute to BED. People who suffer with BED are more like to have had a previous struggle due to trauma and/or other co-occurring anxiety and mood disorders.
Studies are also showing a strong link between genetics and BED. Research indicates that 95% of BED sufferers have had a parent who also suffered from BED or had a substance abuse problem. Children see their parents exhibiting these dangerous eating habits or talking to themselves negatively, and they begin to pick up on these habits and model their own behavior in a similar way.
Neurobiological factors also lead to loss of control with eating. Hormones are affected by episodes of binging and this leads our body to be confused over when we are hungry versus full and how we think and feel around food. These hormonal changes may not allow us to feel “full” when we are or may cause us to feel “hungry” when we just ate.
TREATMENT FOR BED
Options for treatment include meeting with a specialist in eating disorders or particularly one with BED specialists, cognitive behavioral therapy, and support groups. As our culture continues to put pressure on us to be thin, lose weight, and try another new diet, the number of people with BED is continuing to rise. The feelings of guilt and shame one experiences when suffering from BED can cause that person to avoid seeking treatment for the disorder, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone and that there is help available.
BY Joey Guz