Sixteen year-old Addison has a great, loving family and plenty of friends. She excels in school and is also very active in the church’s youth department and in sports as well. Addison’s issues are deep within, however. She has trouble expressing her emotions and therefore struggles alone in her sadness and insecurities.
When the day is done and the night closes in, as everyone else sleeps, Addie feels drawn to the kitchen area. The day’s stresses fade away as she begins to relax over the food she finds there. From cookies, chips, and cake to a gallon of chocolate ice cream, she eats all she can manage to get her hands upon. Then she makes her way to her bedroom where more snacks she’s stashed await her.
At first, Addy experiences relief as she eats. She does not, however, enjoy feeling powerless over the situation and not in control. Once she realizes the amount of food she’s eaten, she is overridden with shame. Addy swears to herself that she will never repeat the action again.
She tries to live up to her promise but cannot. The cycle continues, over and over again. Every time she feels stressed out, she uses food for an outlet. She has no clue what to do about her situation or who to turn to. She doubts anyone would understand. She feels extremely along and afraid.
Brady has just turned thirteen. He’s known as a nice kid and he is also the joker of the classroom. He’s got friends but isn’t at all secure in himself or his friendships. He is always paranoid that his friends will decide they don’t like him anymore due to something he says or does.
His jokes are just a cover for his fear. Food is one thing he can rely upon to give him the happiness he is longing for. When sad, stressed, or bored, food is always there to lift him up and offer him relief, at least temporarily.
It wasn’t until Brady got into therapy that he realized the connection between food and his feelings. He knew he was drawn to food, but prior to therapy, he didn’t know the full implications and how very serious the situation was. When he felt he was not in control, he knew he could eat food and he’d feel better, if only for a moment.
The eating then turned to shame, especially when comments were made about his love for food by his parents. His eating caused him to gain weight which prompted bullying by his peers. The situation eventually escalated to the point that he required therapy. Now he is learning to identify and express his feelings. He is developing skills that he needs in order to cope with the emotions that used to overwhelm him.
Tammy is a young woman of thirty-four years of age. She has had issues with her body image and problems with her self-esteem for as long as she can remember. Her weight and appearance have been a struggle ever since she was a child.
She faced ridicule and bullying by her peers which turned into a severe distrust of others. She doubts who she is on the inside and feels very alienated. She is grown now but her job is quite stressful and very fast-paced. Keeping up with the job is tough and keeping up with life is even tougher.
There are two things that help Tammy deal with her stresses: food and alcohol. It seems she is forever having one drink too many or eating too much, too quickly. She feels remorseful after doing either. But, she feels very alone and overwhelmed.
She is doing all she knows how to do to cope with the way she feels. Therapy has crossed her mind but she thinks she should be able to handle her emotions and feelings on her own. Besides, unleashing all the pain is a scary thought. She doesn’t need the added stress.
The concept of being an “emotional eater” simply means to use eating in order to cope. It isn’t a new thing and most people have heard of it but it is far more serious than most realize. Binge Eating Disorder differs from just eating too much at one sitting. It isn’t simply eating for reasons that are emotionally based either. While both scenarios are problematic, they don’t entail the qualifications for being a binge type eater.
What Binge Eating Disorder Really Is
Binge Eating Disorder was recognized by the Association of the American Psychiatric’s list of mental disorders in 2013. Before that, it was in still in research although it was deemed a serious problem by a myriad of professionals throughout the course of many years. Finally, it has its rightful place as a disorder with a name and a set of criteria which distinguish it.
The BED diagnosis criteria are as follows:
- The person must have repeated episodes of bing-eating.
- The definition of a binge consists of possessing three or more of the five following characteristics:
- Eating considerably quicker than normal
- Continuing consumption of food beyond being comfortably full
- Eating large quantities of food even though one is not feeling hungry
- Eating alone because of being embarrassed by the portion sizes
- Having feelings of guilt, depression, or disappointment with oneself following the binge-driven behavior
- In addition, the person who engages in the binges must feel significant emotional distress or remorse about the binge they have taken part in.
The criteria for this disorder is different from that of bulimia nervosa, however, because an individual with BED doesn’t frequently take part in behaviors that are aimed at preventing weight gain.
Negative emotions usually come prior to the episode of binging. It can also be characterized by triggering from other root stressors. That is the reason it’s often regarded as a coping mechanism which is closely related to stress and other negative emotions.
As mentioned before, it is typical with this disorder for food to be consumed in a rush instead of at a pace that is normal. There is little to no mindfulness in the process. The person is likely to eat as an effort to relieve emotions and/or to escape stress.
Shame tends to be an ever-present part of the equation. It is common for those with BED to experience it on a regular basis. It is also typical for one to attempt to hide their shame by engaging in their behavior disorder which only increases and intensifies the negative ways they were already feeling. That is how cyclical behavioral patterns begin and continue.
Additional Common Diagnoses
Those who have been diagnosed with BED quite often meet additional criteria pertaining to other diagnoses as well. It’s not unusual for them to also display signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and even bipolar disorders. Another typical problem is substance and alcohol abuse. For this reason, a professional who is trained to recognize BED will also generally check for additional diagnoses as well.
This type of eating disorder should be taken very seriously. Heart disease, diabetes type 2, muscle and joint issues, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal problems may be present. It’s vital with a BED assessment to also have an evaluation of medical health as well as one of mental health.
BED Risk Factors
There are a number of factors that put a person at more risk, typically. Those things tend to be common with those who have BED.
Some of those risk factors are:
- Persistent dieting, prior to or in conjunction with active BED
- Significant weight change history
- Being overweight
- Having low self-esteem
- Not being able to emotionally cope or express oneself
- Being unhappy with bodily appearance
- Possessing other mental health disorders like having bipolar disorder, substance abuse issues, or depression
- Being bullied or made fun of about weight
- Emotional, sexual, or any other type of trauma or neglect
- Experiencing a significant loss such as a breakup or death
Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
Remember that weight is not always an indicator that someone has BED. The problem can occur in those who don’t have weight issues and those who have weight issues may not have BED.
Shame is frequently experienced with BED. Due to shame, hiding the symptoms and behaviors is very common. Though not conclusive, the signs below may be an indicator of the disorder if one or more are present.
- Trouble eating in social situations, preferring to eat when alone
- Obsessing over food and/or binge planning
- Eating fast with a lack of control
- Frequently feeling constipated or bloated
- Eating past the point of feeling full
- Discovering food wrappers, hoarding food, finding large quantities of food missing
- Elevated withdrawal from activities and relationships and/or becoming isolated more
- Habitually beginning new diets and/or odd meal rituals and/or frequently skipping meals
- Fluctuation of weight
- Unhealthy fixation and focus on bodily shape and/or weight
- Gastrointestinal problems
Binge Eating Disorder Treatment
If a loved one, or yourself, is displaying BED symptoms, it’s imperative to seek a professional evaluation by a specialist in the field. Because BED is likely to include serious medical complications, it is recommended that a physician also evaluate the patient.
In addition, a dietitian can be a very important professional involved in the treatment since they are able to assist a person with the diagnosis and the disorder. They can play a crucial role in the patient understanding and coming to grips with the implications BED has on their health. Nutritional needs are discussed and medication is sometimes prescribed.
If BED is determined to be present, a number of psychological treatments exist which can be of help. Some of these methods are as follows:
- Cognitive Behavior based therapy, or CBT, is a method which assists individuals in understanding the direct relationship thoughts, behaviors, and feelings have. It helps them develop positive and effective strategies to help alter negative patterns.
- Dialectical Behavioral Technique, known also as DBT, is a helpful approach to teaching new skills which can be focused on so that emotions can be regulated during stressful times and during temptations to eat irregularly. Both individual and group settings are generally a part of this type of therapy.
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy, also known as IP, is a technique which helps individuals explore relationships such as loss, conflict, and so forth. It examines how they perceive themselves alongside others and takes a look at how those components might play into their eating disorder and its behaviors.
There are even more treatment types that might be recommended for BED, depending on the individual needs that you may have which flow from our life experiences, like trauma, abuse, etc. A qualified licensed therapist will be able to lovingly point you in the direction that will be the most helpful where a full plan of treatment is concerned.
It is overwhelming to live with BED. Hopeless feelings can consume you and sadness may be a constant emotion you feel. But, there is a better way. There’s hope just around the corner when you begin your journey to healing and recovery. Don’t put it off. Call today and walk in the sunshine. A brand new life awaits you.
“Happy”, Courtesy of Matias Saw, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Altered Conscious”, Courtesy of Alex Perez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Frustrated,” courtesy of Tim Gouw, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stack of Pancakes”, Courtesy of Maria Mekht, Unsplash.com, CC0 License