January 10th, 2024
Binge eating disorder affects 2% of people in the UK which makes it more common than bulimia and anorexia combined. Despite its prevalence, binge eating disorder often remains in the shadows of public discourse and is thus widely misunderstood and underestimated. This lack of awareness and knowledge contributes to the misconceptions surrounding binge eating disorder, making it seem like an inescapable part of life for those affected. However, through greater understanding and professional treatment, it is possible to overcome binge eating disorder and take back control of your life.
What is binge eating disorder?
Binge eating disorder, also known simply as BED, is a severe, life-altering eating disorder characterised by regular episodes of excessive food consumption accompanied by a feeling of loss of control. Unlike with bulimia, these episodes are not followed by compensatory behaviours like purging or excessive exercises.
It is also crucial to differentiate BED eating disorder from overeating or having a big appetite. Binge eating disorder is a mental condition where excessive eating behaviours are both followed and fuelled by feelings of shame, guilt and distress. These emotions can cause secrecy and isolation, which aggravates the cycle, making the disorder self-perpetuating. Despite its prevalence, many people with binge eating disorder suffer in silence, partly due to the stigma attached to eating disorders and partly because of a lack of awareness about the condition’s seriousness.
Binge eating disorder affects both men and women, with a slightly higher prevalence in men, which is quite unusual compared to other eating disorders.
What causes binge eating disorder?
Binge eating disorder is a multifaceted disorder with no single cause but rather the result of a complex mix of genetic, biochemical, psychological and cultural factors. These causes can vary greatly from person to person so identifying the specific factors contributing to your BED is a crucial step in developing an effective treatment plan. Common causes include:
Genetic factors: There is evidence to suggest that binge eating disorder may have a genetic component. This means that if you have a family history of eating disorders, you may be at a higher risk of developing BED.
Biochemical factors: Imbalances in brain chemicals may play a role in developing BED. For instance, abnormalities in the neurotransmitters that regulate mood and appetite may contribute to compulsive eating.
Psychological factors: BED eating disorder is often associated with psychological issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and trauma. Many individuals with BED also report a history of emotional or physical abuse and use food as a way of escaping traumatic memories and emotions.
Cultural and social factors: The societal pressure to conform to certain body standards can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and lead to disordered eating behaviours. The easy availability and marketing of high-calorie, low-nutrition food can also exacerbate the problem.
Other contributing factors: Stress, boredom and feelings of emptiness or loneliness can also trigger binge eating episodes. For some, food becomes a source of comfort or a way to fill the void of meaning in their lives temporarily.
What are some common binge eating disorder symptoms?
Recognising the symptoms and signs of binge eating disorder is a crucial step towards understanding and managing the condition. Key binge eating disorder symptoms include:
Recurrent binge eating episodes
This is the hallmark of BED, where you consume an unusually large amount of food in a specific time period.
Feeling a lack of control
During binge eating episodes, there is often a feeling of not being able to stop eating or control how much you are eating even if you want to.
Eating much more rapidly than normal
Binge episodes are usually characterised by eating faster than usual for no particular reason.
Eating until uncomfortably full
With a binge eating disorder, you will often continue eating even when you are not physically hungry or already uncomfortably full.
Eating alone due to embarrassment
This is a common binge eating disorder symptom which can create a vicious cycle of isolation and continued bingeing.
Extreme emotional distress after overeating
Post-binge, it is common to feel disgust, depression or guilt about the condition but still be unable to change your behaviour.
No use of compensatory behaviours
Unlike bulimia, binge eating episodes are not followed by purging, excessive exercise or fasting.
What are the effects of binge eating disorder?
It’s essential to acknowledge BED’s comprehensive impact on your physical and emotional well-being. This understanding is vital for anyone suffering from BED, as it emphasises the importance of seeking comprehensive treatment that addresses all aspects of the disorder. The effects of binge eating disorder include:
BED eating disorder can lead to significant physical health issues, including:
Type 2 diabetes
Binge eating disorder often coexists with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. The guilt and shame associated with binge eating can exacerbate these issues, creating a cycle of emotional distress.
Social and relationship effects
The secrecy surrounding binge eating episodes may lead to social withdrawal or difficulties in maintaining healthy relationships. The perceived stigma associated with BED may also prevent you from seeking social support.
School and job impacts
BED can also interfere with work or academic performance. The stress and preoccupation with food, along with the physical and psychological effects of the disorder, can impair concentration, motivation and overall performance.
How is a binge eating disorder diagnosed?
There is no standalone binge eating disorder test. Instead, diagnosing binge eating disorder involves a comprehensive evaluation process, encompassing various aspects of your mental and physical health. This process is not just about identifying the symptoms but also understanding the underlying causes and impacts of the disorder. This can involve a team of professionals, including doctors, nutritionists and mental health therapists, to ensure a holistic understanding of the individual’s condition. Accurate diagnosis includes:
Identifying DSM-5 criteria
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), provides specific criteria for diagnosing BED. These criteria include:
- Recurrent episodes of binge eating
- A sense of lack of control during these episodes
- Marked distress regarding binge eating
The binge eating episodes must also occur, on average, at least once a week for three months.
A thorough physical examination may be conducted to assess the physical health impacts of BED eating disorder. This can include evaluating your weight, checking for signs of nutritional deficiencies and assessing any related health conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.
This may involve discussing your eating habits, emotional state, body image and any history of trauma or abuse. Standardised questionnaires and psychological tests may also be used to get a better idea of your mental health status and identify any co-occurring disorders like depression or anxiety.
Understanding your behaviour patterns around food is also crucial for diagnosis. This may involve keeping a food diary, discussing feelings and behaviours during and after binge eating episodes and exploring triggers for binge eating.
What does effective binge eating disorder treatment involve?
Effective binge eating disorder treatment is multifaceted, addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of the disorder. At UKAT’s Banbury Lodge, we take a holistic approach, providing comprehensive rehab treatment that considers your individual binge eating recovery needs. Key components of our binge eating treatment programme include:
Individual therapy sessions focus on identifying and addressing underlying emotional and psychological issues. Your therapists may employ various approaches, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), to help you understand and change your binge eating behaviours.
Group therapy provides a supportive environment where you can share your experiences and BED recovery strategies. It is a space to learn from others facing similar challenges and build a supportive community.
A crucial part of binge eating treatment involves nutritional counselling. This aims to help you develop a healthier relationship with food, understand nutritional needs and establish regular eating patterns.
In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage symptoms of BED or co-occurring mental health conditions. This should always be done under the monitoring of healthcare professionals like those at Banbury Lodge.
Aftercare is an essential part of the binge eating treatment process. At UKAT, this involves ongoing weekly group therapy sessions to help you maintain binge eating recovery and prevent relapse.
Start binge eating disorder recovery today
Binge eating disorder recovery is a journey, and it begins with the decision to seek help. At Banbury Lodge, we are committed to supporting you throughout this journey. Our holistic treatment approach is designed to help you address the causes and triggers of BED and to equip you with the tools and support you need for long-term recovery. Reach out to Banbury Lodge today to start your journey towards a new life.
When do I need to see a doctor for a binge eating disorder?
You should consider seeing a doctor for a binge eating disorder if you find yourself regularly eating large amounts of food in a short period, feeling a loss of control during these episodes and experiencing guilt, shame or distress afterwards. Likewise, if your eating habits are causing distress and impacting your health or daily life, seeking professional help is important. A healthcare provider can offer an accurate diagnosis and guide you towards appropriate treatment options.
How can I help a loved one with a binge eating disorder?
Helping a loved one with a binge eating disorder involves offering support, understanding and encouragement. It is important to approach the subject sensitively and without judgement. Encourage them to seek professional help and offer to assist with finding resources or attending appointments. Be patient and understanding and educate yourself on BED to better empathise with their experiences and challenges.
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