Beat the Binge
Since 2013 binge eating disorder (BED) has been classified as a distinct eating disorder, as stated in the fifth edition of the DSM classification and diagnostic manual for clinical disorders.
Although many who are obese have BED not all people with a binging disorder are obese. Furthermore, binging is not simply ‘overeating’, which is something every normal human being engages in every now and again – think about Christmas, parties, or the evenings you get back from a crappy day and turn to the tub of Ben and Jerries, only to realise half an hour later there’s none left; we’ve all been there!
That is not a binge.
That my friends is life.
You are not out of control, not abnormal, bad, disgusting, or any of the other horrifically degrading labels people use.
Norma eating and the difference between overeating, bulimia and binge eating disorder?
Our eating behaviour is never just biologically determined. What, when and how we eat is shaped socially, by culture and dietary norms, by our health status, age and exercise habits which alters our internal physiology and metabolic needs. Stress and emotions also influence the experience of hunger and fullness. Negative emotions, such as stress and depression, have been found to both suppress and increase appetite.
Positive emotions have been found to lead to over eating, as food is used, and associated with social occasions, celebrations and reward.
Whereas normal hunger can be postponed and prolonged, emotional hunger is intense and immediate, and usually the cravings will centre around all the foods you’ve either been restricting from your diet, or that have high carb and sugar content. There is a neurobiological reason for this, as foods high in carbs and fats release higher levels of serotonin and dopamine which are the “happy”, pleasure hormones in the brain, and enhance feelings of comfort.
These are also responsible for motivation and reward learning, meaning that you will be more likely to repeat the behaviours again.
So whilst over or under eating in some situations is expected, and normal, prolonged periods of disordered eating (pervasive over months) which impact your quality of life, such as your ability to socialise, hold down relationships, work, and your physical and mental health, are hugely complex.
Binge eating disorder is not followed by purges.
Purging; compensatory behaviours used to relieve guilt from eating foods) are associated with bulimia and are also found in sub-types of anorexia.
These behaviours may include using laxatives, over exercising or vomiting. If engaged in for prolonged periods of time are dangerously detrimental to ones health. Breaking these cycles can be difficult and cause intense amounts of anxiety.
Patients with BED have described entering a trance-like state when they binge eat. Describe being “out of control” with an inability to stop eating, even when they’re in severe discomfort from fullness and bloating.
Eating episodes are rapid
The person may hide away and eat out of shame and embarrassment.
Different from bulimia, there is no purging behaviours used to compensate. However it is followed by distress and sadness around the binge episode.
If this is your situation at the moment then you must seek medical help from your GP and local mental health clinic.
What causes binge eating disorders?
Whilst some may turn to alcohol, drugs, sex or develop depression, as a response to difficult life events (past or present stress or trauma) many turn to food as a form of control, or escape.
Triggers that have been found common to those with BED include:
- Body image problems
- Excessive yo-yo dieting and prolonged periods of restriction
People with BED may use food to negatively punish their body, others use food to comfort, trying to fill a void and escape from their negative emotions. This leads to a really unhealthy relationship with food and ones own body to develop, and over time can increase the risk of obesity.
What my experience has taught me…
I understand that both ends of the spectrum can be devastatingly hard to deal with, and be a lonely experience to go through. However, now if I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I check in with myself and make sure I prevent under or over-eating that is emotionally driven.
Whilst my experience was not with BED, in my early teens I emotional over-ate. Often buying two or three lunches a day, and eating them as a way to calm myself in social situations, and then on the way home from school would happily demolish cakes and sweets from the local shop before tucking into packet, upon packet of crisps before my dinner, which I would regularly have seconds of, and dessert.
Later in life I developed anorexia.
As my journey unveiled itself the underling trauma surfaced, and this was where my use of food as punishment and comfort came from. Over the years it was dealt with, and now I have a very happy and healthy relationship with my food and body.
I would highly recommend therapy and clinical treatment with a local mental health service alongside any self-help or social support you choose to use.
My Top 6 Tips For Getting On-Top of Emotional Binge-Eating:
- Watch what you buy:
If you don’t have it in you are not going to binge on it!! Make a balanced shopping list that includes small treats, but not packets of foods you know you’re likely to centre your binges on. Try and avoid shopping when hungry, and make sure you eat well during the day, not restricting food groups, so you don’t get over hungry and binge in the evenings.
- Distract your mind:
Distracting your mind, and finding other equally relaxing and pleasurable activities outside of food is important.
Going for a walk, ringing a friend or journalling/writing are good exercises to do. Art has also been found to be a great distractor and therapeutic outlet for handling difficult emotions. Anything to keep your mind and hands busy.
- Know your triggers: Be it stress, break ups, loneliness, arguments…what are the repeated events that precede your binges.
Write your triggers down; how the situation makes you feel, what behaviours happens, and an action plan to counter them.
e.g argued with my boss, felt useless so binged, next time I will go for a walk to get some fresh air and think about the situation before talking with him the next day.
- Eat well during the day:
Don’t skip meals, or eliminate foods from your diet. This leads to a higher chance of overeating and if you’re trying hard to not eat a food you generally love, common ones are bread or chocolate, then you are more likely going to crave a binge on these later in the day. So don’t skip meals, and include all food types so that your body is nutritionally satiated. Portion size is variable depending on your own needs for your height, weight and activity levels. Learn to intuitively eat; listening to your bodies hunger signals and the foods it actually wants. The more you take care of your body the more it will take care of you.
- Most importantly, be kind to yourself!!
Disordered eating does not manifest over night, and neither will it disappear over night. Be gentle on yourself, know there will be good days, and bad days – write down in a journal what went well, what didn’t work, and learn to know yourself inside out. Setting achievable goals to combat your behaviours is more sustainable than expecting perfection within a week.