When you’re in a healthy relationship with food, you understand its true purpose – to fuel your body and keep its systems running smoothly. You make food choices that result in high energy levels, minimal mood swings, mental clarity, stable weight, optimal health, increased self-confidence, and the potential for a longer life span.
On the other hand, when you’re in a chronic toxic relationship with food, fatigue, wildly fluctuating mood swings, food obsession, decreased feelings of self-worth, and weight gain or obesity – which put you at risk for serious disease and may even shorten your life span – take over your world. In fact, an abstract published in Current Psychiatry Reports in June 2012 noted that binge eating disorder (BED) is associated with reduced quality of life and impaired social functioning.
Because of the potential impact on energy levels, mental clarity, self-worth, and vital health, it becomes crystal clear that your relationship with food has the power to ultimately affect every area of your life, sometimes in drastic ways. This is a truth I discovered for myself after years of struggling with and overcoming my own eating disorders. I learned that all things are intricately connected. You can’t throw one thing off balance, without impacting the rest in some way.
According to a well-traveled saying: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option. At that point – the point of total commitment – what seems impossible becomes wondrously possible.” It’s true. Once you commit to change, you have the power within you to make peace with food for once and for all.
Let’s get started with a few questions:
- eat until you feel physically uncomfortable?
- lack control when eating?
- feel your eating is out of control?
- often eat large amounts in a short period of time?
- eat large amounts even when you’re not hungry?
- eat alone because you don’t want others to see how much you’re eating?
- beat yourself up mentally, feel bad about yourself, guilty, even disgusted when you overeat?
- feel like you’re stuck in a vicious cycle you can’t escape?
- try every diet, yet hopelessly watch your weight continue to climb?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, you most likely have binge eating disorder. Or you may be a “reforming” binge eater who keeps falling off the wagon? Either way, this book offers you valuable support and information.
If you suffer from an eating disorder you’re not alone
Up to 24 million people in the United States and 70 million individuals worldwide – all ages and genders – suffer from eating disorders, according to the Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders. But these problems don’t exist alone. They coexist with other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, resulting in a complex interaction of different factors.
Binge eating disorder (BED), like other destructive eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, can take a serious physical and psychological toll.
So what’s the good news? Binge eating disorder can be successfully treated. Many effective treatment options are available.
You will learn:
- how to identify binge eating disorder
- the causes of BED
- the signs and symptoms
- how to identify whether you are at risk
- the health risks of binge eating disorder
- the psychological consequences
- how binge eating disorder differs from compulsive eating
- how binge eating disorder differs from bulimia nervosa
- proven, effective treatments, strategies, and techniques
- a new way to think about food
- a new way to relate to food that you can live with for the rest of your life
- what to do if you relapse
WHAT IS BINGE EATING DISORDER?
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States, says WIN, an information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. About 3.5 percent of adult women, 2 percent of adult men, and about 1.6 percent of adolescents are estimated to have binge eating disorder. In addition, binge eating disorder typically affects women in early adulthood, but affects men more often during midlife.
Typically, we all over-indulge on occasions such as Christmas gatherings or scrumptious buffets. However, people who overeat compulsively, on a regular basis, and who experience shame, guilt, and out-of-control feelings because of overeating, may be dealing with binge eating disorder. According to an abstract published in Current Psychiatry Reports in August 2012, one binge-eating theory suggests that BED is an emotion-coping mechanism.
Secret Binge Eaters
Because of shame and guilt, most binge eaters try to keep their problem secret. They can become so good at hiding their eating problem that close friends and family members may not recognize a problem for years. According to the National Association Of Anorexia Nervosa And Related Disorders, binge eating is more common than anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. It’s often rooted in poor body image, attempts at stress control, low self-esteem, and is tied to dysfunctional thoughts.
Many adults and children suffer from serious eating disorders that don’t fall in the categories of anorexia or bulimia nervosa. These eating disorders are classified as “eating disorders not otherwise specified” (EDNOS). Binge eating disorder is part of the EDNOS group. Of these different conditions, binge eating disorder is the most common.
People who suffer from BED typically alternate between erratic dieting and binge eating. This is known as the diet-binge cycle. People who suffer from bulimia nervosa, on the other hand, follow binge-eating episodes with compensating actions, such as self-induced vomiting, obsessive exercise, or fasting, in an attempt to avoid gaining weight. Because of this, those with BED are more likely to be overweight or obese.
Note: Not everyone who is overweight or obese suffers from binge eating disorder. The typical American sedentary lifestyle, along with huge portion sizes and high-calorie junk foods, plays a serious role in overweight and obesity.
Compulsions are behaviors we typically use to cope with emotionally disturbing situations. These behaviors act as a means of escape from dealing with stress, sleep, and social interaction problems. For example, binge eating is often used to “stuff” down stress or uncomfortable emotional feelings. Instead of effectively dealing with the problem, we sink into feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust after binging, which keep us stuck in the behavior.
Compulsive behaviors create habits
Compulsive behaviors then turn into habits, much like addiction. It can be a challenge to free yourself from these habits once they’re firmly established. The good news – it CAN be done.
Although closely linked to BED, compulsive overeating (CO) may have slightly less intense behaviors patterns. Compulsive overeaters do, however, experience significant amounts of distress due to their eating behaviors.
While experts differ in their interpretation of compulsive overeating versus binge eating disorder, the two behaviors are closely related. Although compulsive overeating is not generally classified as an eating “disorder,” compulsive overeaters also tend to have cravings they can’t seem to control. They may overeat small or large amounts of food or just compulsively and continuously nibble.
In both cases emotional coping is the wellspring – stuffing down feelings, emotions, and needs. And in both cases the person feels like they have an addiction to food. You crave, or have a preoccupation with food. In addition, you have a difficult time stopping after eating a reasonable amount. If the majority of the foods you overeat are refined, processed, and loaded with sugar, your blood sugar levels will rise and fall erratically, resulting in more cravings and mood swings that may indeed feel like an addiction.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating large amounts of food during a short time period, followed by self-induced or drug-induced vomiting, or purging. Psychiatrists first recognized this disorder in 1979. Obsessive concern with body shape and weight is a common characteristic of bulimia nervosa, just as it is in anorexia nervosa.
Because bulimia nervosa blends binge eating with a purging process, people with bulimia nervosa often remain within their normal weight range and can appear healthy, unlike anorexics. Since it’s difficult to identify in other people, bulimia nervosa can go undetected for years, according to Adriane Ruggiero, editor of Bulimia.
When vomiting is used as part of the purging process – binge eat, vomit, binge eat again – the bingeing episode can go on for several hours. Some binge eaters have reported binging and purging up to 20 times during a 24-hour period, says Ruggiero.
Often laxatives and diuretics are used in an attempt to avoid gaining weight from the binge. Fasting, extreme dieting, and excessive exercise are also engaged in to avoid gaining unwanted pounds.
Ruggiero states that most binge-purge eating is done in secret and is typically accompanied by feelings of shame and self-disgust for “pigging out” and feelings of being out of control. Some people, however, claim they have no memory of binge eating and say they don’t even taste the food they consume. Instead, the bingeing provides a tranquilizing or sedative effect, with the food providing a drug-like effect.
When the binge episode is over, however, binge eaters may try to relieve their feelings of shame and disgust by entering yet another “sedative” binge-eating episode.
Physical consequence of the binge-eating and-purging cycle include:
- chronically sore and inflamed throat
- deteriorating tooth enamel due to exposure to stomach acid
- increasing tooth sensitivity and decay due to exposure to stomach acid
- swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw
- gastrointestinal problems, including acid reflux disorder
- irritated intestines due to excessive laxative use
- severe dehydration from loss of fluid during vomiting
- electrolyte imbalance – too high or too low levels of sodium, potassium, calcium, or other minerals, which can lead to heart attack
Male Binge Eating
Men Binge Too
Although women are the focus of this book because women are more likely to suffer from binge eating disorder, a surprising number of men also suffer from BED. Like women who have BED, men with binge eating disorder also have a distorted idea of their body image. Unfortunately, because binge eating disorder is often regarded as a female disorder, males often go undiagnosed.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, estimates indicate that about 60 percent of people struggling with binge eating disorder are female, 40 percent are male.
Health Risks of Binge Eating
Your body takes quite a hit when you engage in repeated binge eating. BED can lead not only to weight gain, but also to obesity and its related health issues. Research suggests that people with binge eating disorder report more health problems, stress, and suicidal thoughts than do people without an eating disorder, according to WIN, an information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Are you suffering from lack of sleep? Do you wake up several times a night and have trouble getting back to sleep? Did you know that eating large amounts of food at night interferes with your sleep pattern?
Are you experiencing painful acid reflux or heartburn? Obesity is a major contributor to acid reflux. In fact, obesity is the single most preventable risk factor for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), says Jorge E. Rodriguez, M.D., in his book The Acid Reflux Solution.
Serious health conditions linked to binge eating disorder include:
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach cramps
- Digestive problems
- Menstrual problems
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Some types of cancer
- Gallbladder disease
- Muscle pains
- Joint pains
Before we take a look at the psychological effects linked with BED, let’s get clear about a basic truth:
You may have an eating disorder, but your eating disorder isn’t who you are. Binge eating may seem to be dictating your life right now, but it doesn’t define you.
While a number of psychological characteristics contribute to the development of binge eating disorder, a variety of psychological effects are typically experienced as a result of BED. As the disorder progresses, it becomes hard to tell the difference between physiological sensations, such as hunger and fullness, and emotional feelings.
The following psychological effects linked to BED can interfere with and block your joy in life:
- extreme distress and anxiety, especially during and after a binge episode
- low self-esteem and concern
- excess concern over physical appearance
- fear of rejection and disapproval
- fear of activities that involve food, leading to self-imposed isolation
- overly sensitive or defensive
- feelings of self-loathing
- feelings of guilt
Binge Episode Profile
Characteristics are features or qualities that serve to identify a person, place, or thing.
According to Sally Schwab, Ph.D., MSW, Director, Primary Care Faculty of New York Medical College, binge-eating episodes are linked to certain characteristics. Check out the characteristics provided by Dr. Schwab below. Do these characteristics describe your episodes?
Typical binge-eating episode characteristics include:
- The person can consume up to 5,000 calories or more per episode, typically within a two-hour period.
- The food consumed is often high in calories and carbohydrates.
- The food is typically eaten in secret.
- The binging continues until the person is uncomfortably full, is interrupted, or runs out of food.
- An average of 14 binge episodes occur per week (may be combined with purging).
Body image is the way you perceive and experience your physical form. Women with greater self-confidence have a better body image. They are more likely to have a level of respect and appreciation for their body that makes them less vulnerable to eating disorders than women with poor self-esteem. An article published in Eating Behaviors in December 2011 noted that the results of an assessment on binge eating disorder among university students often showed negative self-image.
The interesting thing about body image is that it is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In Western cultures, thin is in and we live in a relentless quest for self-improvement. In non-Western cultures, however, overweight bodies are often admired and considered a sign of beauty. Most of us are programmed into a system of interpretations, meanings, and values of the culture we’re born into, which can radically affect body image.
People with binge eating disorder (BED) often feel inferior because they’re overweight and feel other’s view them that same way. In other words, the way binge eaters see themselves is the way they think others see them. In addition, they not only set up unrealistic expectations for themselves, but also blame their body for failures, such as relationship problems or work-related issues. These people are often people pleasers who overlook their own needs.
How do you perceive your body?
Sally Schwab, Ph.D., MSW, Director, Primary Care Faculty of New York Medical College, offers a few questions that are used in body image assessment. You may find these questions helpful for getting in touch with your feelings about your body:
- How important is your body size to how you feel as a person?
- Do you spend a lot of time thinking about your body?
- Is there anything about your body you wish you could change?
- Are there things you intentionally avoid doing because of the way you feel about your body?
- What actions are you taking to manage your weight?
- What kinds of foods would I find in your house?
- Are there any restrictions on what you eat? If so, what are they?
Symptoms – Are You At Risk
The prevalence of binge eating disorder (BED) is estimated to be approximately 1 to 5 percent of the general population, according to the National Eating Disorders Association,
Need for immediate action
While eating a lot of food doesn’t mean you have binge eating disorder, having several binge eating disorder characteristics can indicate that it’s time to take a serious look at the issue. Previously, we covered the characteristics of a binge-eating episode. The following list profiles the actions of a person with a binge eating disorder.
Check the symptoms that apply to you. The more symptoms you check, the more urgently you need to take action or seek help. Binge eating disorder doesn’t heal itself and if left untreated could get worse.
- I eat unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time, such as 2 hours.
- I think about food often or all the time.
- My binges are recurring.
- I feel out of control when eating. I feel I can’t stop eating or control how much I eat.
- I eat more quickly than usual during binge episodes.
- I eat until I feel physically uncomfortable.
- I eat large amounts of food even when I’m not hungry.
- I frequently eat alone or secretly.
- I experience feelings of shame, guilt or disgust after overeating.
- I feel depressed or upset after overeating.
- I feel the need to binge again shortly after an episode to help sedate my feelings of disgust or shame.
- I lose and gain weight repeatedly.
- My binge episodes are not usually associated with compensating behaviors such as purging (vomiting) or excessive exercise.
- I feel like I’m stuck in a vicious cycle I can’t escape.
Identify Your Triggers
Identifying your binge-eating triggers is a powerful way to begin your healing. When you can recognize situations and emotions that send you over the top, you’re able to effectively handle your triggers before they get out of control by substituting other activities.
Take some time to answer the following questions, which help you zero in on specific binge-eating triggers:
- Do you feel anxious eating when you’re around others in social situations? Be specific.
- Do you associate certain activities, such as watching TV, with food?
- Do visual situations, such as passing by a bakery or restaurant, affect you?
- Do you feel the need to binge after spending time with certain people or in certain places?
- What thoughts do you observe running through your head when you feel the need to eat?
- What emotions do you experience right before you feel the need to eat?
- Do you skip meals to compensate, but then feel insatiable when you finally eat?
- Can you identify any patterns?
Binge Eating Causes
Our Love/Hate Relationship With Food – Binge Eating is a Way of Dealing With Emotions
So, why do we eat when we’re not hungry? Although the causes of binge eating disorder aren’t crystal clear, certain factors appear to make a person more susceptible to the development of BED. For example, traumatic childhood experiences, such as family issues and demeaning comments about body shape or weight, may contribute to the development of this disorder. Sexual abuse and social/culture-driven pressures focused on weight, body shape, and appearance may be risk factors for BED.
Often, the development of BED is a complex interaction of several factors:
Although a definite link between dieting and the development of BED hasn’t been clearly shown, binge-eating episodes have been linked to dieting. For example, severely limiting your food intake, skipping meals, or going long periods of time without eating when dieting can lead to binge eating. Interestingly, some studies have also shown that women with eating disorders are less likely to have eaten breakfast regularly during childhood compared to women who didn’t have eating disorders.
Some of us swallow our feelings with each bite of food. While research shows that many people with binge eating disorder are depressed or have been depressed, there’s no clear link between depression and BED. There does, however, appear to be a link with emotions. An article published in The International Journal of Eating Disorders in March 2006 noted the result from a study done on two hundred and twenty overweight BED patients revealed that emotions were significantly associated with binge eating frequency.
According to Brown University, the role of genetics in binge eating disorder is undergoing research, since BED is often present in several members of the same family. A clinical review published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America in January 2009, noted that it is becoming increasingly clear that genetic factors play a significant role in the potential development of eating disorders.
Although people of normal weight can develop BED, people who are obese are at higher risk for developing binge eating disorder than people of normal weight. About two in three people who have this disorder are obese, according to WIN, an information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The clinical review published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America in January 2009, noted that socio-cultural influences, such as unrealistically thin media images, may promote eating disorders and body dissatisfaction, which can lead to eating disorders. There is an intense focus on thinness and physical attractiveness of women. The desire for thinness is also associated with higher socioeconomic status. Pressure for high achievement is also linked to binge eating disorder.
Many people learn at an early age to self-medicate with food. For example, if you had a bad day at school, you may have been encouraged to soothe your pain with a fudgy piece of chocolate cake. Or if you’re feeling sad, a bowl of rocky road ice cream will take the edge off. In addition, the clinical review published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America suggests that parents may also unknowingly contribute to the development of eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa, in children by modeling behaviors such as drive for thinness, over-valuing appearance, and body dissatisfaction. It’s important for parents to encourage acceptance of self and a healthy body image in children regardless of their size or body shape.
Adverse life events may contribute significantly to the risk of developing eating disorders. Some studies reveal that physical abuse, perceived risk of physical abuse, safety concerns, stress, and experiences of weight and shape-related criticism were more common in women with BED than women in the group who didn’t have binge eating disorder.
Poor Stress-Coping Skills
The way stressful life events are perceived makes a significant difference on the event’s impact. People with binge eating disorder tend to have poor anxiety-management skills.
The Diet Dilemma
People who suffer with binge eating disorder typically struggle with weight gain or obesity because compensating behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting and excessive exercise – which typically keep weight gain in check in the bulimic – are not part of the BED process. Because of this, BED sufferers often turn to on-and-off dieting as the solution. But hit-and-miss dieting is like throwing more fuel on a fire and can result in more problems. How?
Perpetual Weight-Loss Quest
As a hit-and-miss dieter, thoughts of food monopolize your day – where to eat, what to eat, how much to eat, and so on. You spend a huge amount of your day immersed in thoughts of food. Instead of putting food in its proper perspective, the act of dieting places it front-and-center, makes it the focal point of your day. And, instead of living the day and enjoying the present moment, you focus perpetually on the future, obsessing about how losing weight will solve all your problems.
Craving vs. Vulnerability Cross-point
When you suffer from BED, your strongest cravings will often come at your most emotionally vulnerable times – a dangerous cross-point. For example, because binge eaters eat for emotional reasons, such as stress and anxiety, an upsetting event, a particularly stressful day, or an argument with a co-worker or loved one, can catapult a binge eater on a direct path to the refrigerator. This leads to a compulsive-eating episode. The result: full on sabotage of your best diet intentions because traditional dieting doesn’t address your emotional reasons for binge eating.
Dieting and feelings of deprivation go hand-in-hand. Feeling deprived plays head games that can trigger the desire for food, leading to a binge-eating episode, causing your good intentions to backfire.
Weighing Your Worth
Scales are powerful triggers for diet sabotage. If your scale registers a loss, you’re elated and feel good about yourself. A gain of a pound or two, however, can propel you into feelings of despair and depression. It’s as if we’re weighing our self-worth on the bathroom scales. The use of scales throws yet another emotional component into to the sensitive mix. Gauging weight loss by how your cloths fit or by your energy level is a valid and less emotionally charged way to monitor your weight-loss success.
Instead of yo-yo dieting, engage in a balanced, healthy eating plan which includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and moderate amounts of unsaturated fats, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates. This assures that your body is receiving nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, which not only help stabilize weight, but also help maintain stable blood sugar levels, and support a strong immune system.
Helping A Loved One
Living with a loved one who has binge eating disorder is a challenge. Often, you’re not dealing with BED alone, but with depression, frustration, and emotional ups and downs.
Clues You Should Look For
According to Sally Schwab, Ph.D., MSW, Director, Primary Care Faculty of New York Medical College, psychological characteristics of people with eating disorders may include:
- distorted thinking
- disturbance in perception of body shape
- self-esteem that’s highly dependent on weight
- anxiety management is rigid and ritualistic
- polarized thinking – things are either good or bad
- tend to focus on and expect the negative
- feel controlled by external conditions
- live with a lot of “shoulds” – iron-clad rules about how to act
- tend to be uncomfortable in social situations
A loved one with binge eating disorder may act in ways that aren’t consistent with his/her usual behavior. For example:
- making excuses to go to the bathroom after meals (can be a red flag for those binge eaters who are purging to avoid weight gain)
- unusual mood swings
- you find that your loved one is hoarding food
- rapid weight gain (in non-purging type of binge eating disorder)
- comments that indicate distorted perception of their weight and body shape
If a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of binge eating disorder, there are several steps you can take:
- If you observe your loved one acting out behaviors symptomatic of BED, ask them to have an open and honest discussion about your concerns.
- Discuss any major life changes or stressful events they may be experiencing.
- Offer support and encouragement.
- Help them find a doctor or mental health care provider to discuss their condition.
If you choose to make an appointment with a qualified health care provider to discuss your eating condition, expect your doctor to recommend several actions, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- a physical exam
- blood and urine tests
- psychological evaluation that includes discussing your eating habits
- additional tests for potential conditions that may have resulted from binge eating, such as heart and gallbladder problems
To be diagnosed with binge eating disorder, say the experts at Mayo Clinic, your doctor will also check that you meet the criteria established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association:
- Recurrent episodes of binge eating, including eating an abnormally large amount of food and feeling a lack of control over eating
- Binge eating that’s associated with at least three of these factors: eating rapidly; eating until you’re uncomfortably full; eating large amounts when you’re not hungry; eating alone out of embarrassment; or feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty after eating
- Concern about your binge eating
- Binge eating at least twice a week for at least six months
- Binge eating that’s not associated with purging, such as self-induced vomiting
The conventional medical treatment for binge eating disorder is three-pronged:
- Reduce eating binges
- Improve your emotional well being
- Lose weight, if needed
Addressing the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Integrative medicine focuses on treating the whole person – the mind, body, and spirit – as well as other aspects of lifestyle. According to Andrew Weil, M.D., it makes use of all appropriate therapies, whether conventional or alternative.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with integrative medicine, Dr. Weil provides the following breakdown of the principles of integrative medicine:
- A partnership between patient and practitioner in the healing process.
- Appropriate use of conventional and alternative methods to facilitate the body’s innate healing response.
- Consideration of all factors that influence health, wellness, and disease, including mind, spirit, body, and community.
- A philosophy that neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies uncritically.
- Recognition that good medicine should be based in good science, be inquiry driven, and be open to new paradigms.
- Use of natural, effective, less invasive interventions whenever possible.
- Use of broader concepts of promotion of health and prevention of illness as well as the treatment of disease.
- Training of practitioners to be models of health and healing, committed to the process of self-exploration and self-development.
Alternative Mind-Body Therapies
Many people find additional strength and relief using complementary and alternative therapies that link mind and body, promoting feelings of relaxation and calm while reducing anxiety that is part of BED.
- Massage Therapy – manipulation of layers of muscle and connective tissue to help reduce anxiety.
- Acupuncture – a Chinese medicine system that’s been used for centuries as a treatment for anxiety and depression. It involves inserting special needles into the skin or tissue at specific locations.
- Meditation – a method of focusing the mind for the purpose of relaxation and release of anxiety.
- Yoga – a system of breath control and body postures used to enhance health and relaxation.
Because negative emotions, such as shame, anxiety, guilt, self-disgust, depression, and poor self-image are intricately woven in the complex pattern of binge eating disorder, psychotherapy sessions – either individual or group – can help you replace unhealthy thought habits with supportive ones. Psychotherapy sessions may include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – focuses on negative thoughts and feelings that can trigger binge-eating episodes. In addition, you’ll receive weight-loss counseling if your goal is also to lose weight.
Interpersonal psychotherapy – focuses on your current relationships with other people. This includes developing more effective interpersonal and communication skills to help you relate to family, friends and work colleagues.
Dialectical behavior therapy – focuses on skills to help you more effectively cope with stress and balance emotions.
Support groups are a potent source of emotional support and practical information. These groups are made up of other people who understand what you’re experiencing. They’ve gone through, or are going through, an eating disorder situation similar to yours, so you don’t feel like you’re facing your problem alone.
These groups offer valuable coping ideas, support, empathy, and encouragement. Because the atmosphere of these meetings is nonjudgmental, many people feel free to share stories and offer ideas that inspire hope and encouragement.
Typically, support groups meet in person and include a professional who conducts the meeting. Online support group forums are also available.
No medication has been specifically developed to treat or cure binge eating disorder. Some doctors, however, may prescribe certain medications intended to help minimize your symptoms. It’s in your best interest to understand which medications are used and why they’re used so you can make the best choice for you. According to Mayo Clinic, the most commonly prescribed medications include:
Antidepressants – in “medicalese” these are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). In layman’s terms, these medications appear to affect certain brain chemicals associated with mood that help reduce binge eating.
Topiramate (Topamax) – while this is typically used to control seizures, it also appears to help reduce binge-eating episodes. Mayo Clinic warns that this can cause serious side effects. Risks should be discussed with your doctor.
Feel Your Feelings
The terms “feelings” and “emotions” are typically used interchangeably. But, although linked, they’re different. An emotion, such as fear, is a physical response to change that’s hard-wired into humans. It can be objectively measured by brain activity, blood flow, body stance, and facial expression, says Cindy Meyer, Ph.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA. A feeling, on the other hand, is a mental association and reaction to an emotion that is personal and acquired through experience. Although emotions precede feelings and are typically fleeting, the feelings they provoke may persist or grow over a lifetime, says Dr. Meyer. And because emotions initiate feelings, and feelings then initiate emotions, a never-ending cycle of painful emotions is created.
Some feelings lift us to the heights of joy, while others leave us feeling pain and despair. If you suffer from binge eating disorder, you most likely swallow painful feelings with each bite of food during a binge episode. And, while it may temporarily sooth your anxiety, the “fix” wears off and those painful, reactive feelings bubble up once again.
Sit In the Center of the Present Moment
Learning to just “sit” with difficult feelings and emotions is essential to healing. Quietly sitting and watching your reactive feelings, as a detached observer watches clouds float by, can be a powerful source of insight into learning more about who you are.
When these painful feelings creep up on you, take a few deep, abdominal breaths and ask yourself questions such as:
- Where are these feelings coming from?
- Where and when did they originate?
- What thoughts about these emotions and feelings are adding to my pain?
- Are these thoughts or beliefs serving me or sabotaging me?
- Do I really want these thoughts running my life?
This takes you off binge eating autopilot and puts you firmly in the present moment. And remaining in the present moment gives you control and purpose.
Monitor Your Progress
Food journaling plays an important role in your healing journey. By self-monitoring different aspects of your eating patterns, you make powerful self-discoveries. Use the following guidelines to get the most out of your food journaling:
Each time you binge eat:
Write down what you eat, the time you eat, and how much you consume during your binge-eating episode.
Write down your physical location, situation, and thoughts previous to your desire to eat.
Review the findings of your journal weekly to see what truths you’ve unveiled about your relationship with food, patterns, or behavioral triggers.
Because gaining self-awareness is a vital part of the recovery journey, personal journaling is also a powerful step along the path. Journal writing is like talking with a trusted friend. You’re free to write whatever comes to mind. By using your Sherlock Holmes-like abilities, you can start looking for clues in your writings that can help you understand who you are and what you need.
Writing about stressful events you are currently experiencing is a good way to relieve stress. It often serves as a powerful alternative to binge eating because it allows you to release stress and anxiety that typically contribute to your binge-eating episodes.
Journaling can help reveal triggers you may not have been aware of. If you feel the need to binge, stop and observe what is going on — both around you (externally) and within you (internally) and log it in your journal. Over time, you may recognize valuable information, such as behavior patterns. This simple act of observation can reveal much about your coping skills and your reaction to different situations. By becoming aware of these triggers, you can start to recognize them and stop before you find yourself in the middle of a full-blown binge episode.
Through your journal writing you may find that you are very critical of yourself. This is typical of people with binge eating disorder. By getting the words out of your head and on paper, you can become aware of their destructive and self-sabotaging potential. Use your personal journal to also write observations about what you’re doing right, your strengths, and your victories.
Transform Your Food Relationship From Harmful To Healthy
Remember you’re unique
Because we are each unique, no “one size fits all” way of eating fulfills everyone’s needs. Learning to listen to your body’s messages can help you develop a personalized plan to last a lifetime. Begin to observe your body’s messages 20 to 30 minutes after eating each meal.
- Do you feel bloated, dehydrated, sluggish, nauseated or flatulent?
- Does your stomach or head ache?
- Do you feel energized, light, and ready to take action?
You begin seeing which foods work for you instead of against you. These interactive communications can lead to a harmonious partnership between your mind, body, and spirit. You may also choose to work with a nutritional specialist to develop a personalized food plan.
With that said, following a few basic, nutritional guidelines helps control binge eating by maintaining stable blood sugar levels, helps build a strong immune system, and supports your body’s ongoing health and wellness.
- Eat breakfast. Studies show that people with binge eating disorder typically skip breakfast. This plays havoc with blood sugar levels and puts you in the danger zone for a possible binge episode later in the day. Instead, eat a small but substantial breakfast, such as a piece of whole grain toast and peanut butter with a piece of fruit. A breakfast that includes carbohydrate, fat and protein digests more slowly, helping maintain stable blood sugar levels, thus reducing cravings that can trigger a binge episode.
- Clean out the cupboards and refrigerator. Toss out binge-tempting foods, especially highly processed and refined products that are typically loaded with saturated fats, salt, and sugar. These products are often void of nutrient value and high in calories. In addition, many of these foods can send your blood sugar levels spiraling out of control by spiking then dropping to levels that trigger your craving for more, which sends the process into obit again. In addition, these foods are the proverbial “minute on the lips, years on the hips” type of foods your body can do without.
- Eat right. Your body doesn’t require large amounts of food, but it does need the right kinds of food. An adequate intake of foods rich in nutrients — carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals — helps maintain energy and good health, while reducing the risk of serious conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and unsaturated fats in your meal planning. If you eat meat and dairy, stick to the low-fat variety and avoid foods that contain added chemicals and preservatives.
- Keep your body adequately fueled. To keep your energy level running at its peak and to avoid erratic spikes and dips in blood sugar levels, eat six small meals instead of three large meals each day. Space your meals no closer than two hours apart, but no longer than four hours apart.
- Plan a weekly menu. Sustained recovery requires careful planning. Making a specific meal plan for the week helps avoid falling back into old habit patterns on those days when you’re tired or when emotional issues arise. In addition, when you do your weekly shopping using your weekly menu plan as a guide, you’re less likely to buy random items, which can be a temptation.
- Include foods in your meal plan that not only support brain function, but also help avoid depression. Certain nutrient deficiencies can increase your susceptibility to depression and mood swings, which may trigger binge-eating episodes. Support your mental health by incorporating the following foods in your eating plan:
Vitamin-B-rich foods – The eight-member family of B vitamins, also known as vitamin B complex, is vital to proper nervous system and brain function. Research shows that vitamins such as B6 and B12 may help reduce the symptoms of depression. The wide variety of vitamin-B-rich foods includes whole grains and whole grain products, lean beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, broccoli, oranges, eggs, sardines, tuna, yogurt, sunflower seeds, and oatmeal.
Vitamin-D-rich foods – Vitamin D is involved in the production of serotonin and dopamine, which are known as “feel good” chemicals. Studies suggest that low levels of serotonin and dopamine are linked to depression. When you’re exposed to the sun, your body kicks into gear producing vitamin D. Depending on where you live, however, your vitamin D production can fluctuate seasonally. Vitamin D deficiency has even been linked to the development of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as the “winter blues.” Fortunately you can get sufficient vitamin D in your diet. Dietary sources include sardines, herring, salmon, eggs, fortified milk, and fortified cereals.
Magnesium-rich foods – Adequate magnesium intake is vital to the proper function of your body’s organs, such as heart and kidneys. Insufficient amounts of dietary magnesium is linked to reduced serotonin levels, which may increase the potential for depression. Magnesium-rich foods include whole grains, green leafy vegetables, legumes, pumpkin seeds, black walnuts, Brazil nuts, oatmeal, bananas, baked potatoes with skin, and chocolate.
Omega-3-Fatty-Acids-rich foods – Although your body can’t make them, omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for human health. They have been linked to improved symptoms of depression and mood swings, protection against cognitive decline, and are crucial to proper brain function. Omega-3-rich foods include flaxseeds, canola oil, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and cold-water fish, such as salmon, halibut, sardines and tuna.
Selenium-rich foods – Selenium is a trace mineral that is vital to your health. Deficiencies in selenium have been associated with depression and mood swings. Selenium-rich foods include Brazil nuts, tuna, cod, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, chicken, turkey, and whole grains.
Zinc-rich foods – Zinc is a trace mineral found in every cell of your body. It plays an important role in the health of your immune system. According to an abstract published in Journal of Affective Disorders in February 2012, results of a study suggest that inadequate dietary zinc may contribute depressive symptoms in women, and that supplemental zinc may play an important role in antidepressant therapy in women. Foods rich in zinc include oysters, chicken, Swiss cheese, shrimp, red meat, whole grains, tofu, sunflower seeds, green beans, and legumes such as pinto beans, soybeans, peanuts, and lima beans.
DEALING WITH SETBACKS
Re-entering mainstream life after treatment can be challenging because you’re typically faced with the same environment in which your eating disorder originated. The ongoing recovery journey will have peaks and valleys. You may experience times when you feel you have no outlet for stress or that you’re losing control and you’re sliding back into your old habits.
Dealing with a setback can be difficult when you’ve experienced substantial progress in treatment and have lost weight. It may feel like a setback in your recovery, but it can happen. It’s important to keep in mind that binge eating is a disorder you are working on releasing, it’s not who you are. You are worthy and deserving of a fulfilling life and experiencing a relapse isn’t about failure, you’ve simply veered off course temporarily.
Take Time to Observe
By observing what is happing in your life during this time, a relapse may provide valuable information as to the discovery of previously unidentified triggers and what parts of your recovery plan are effective or not effective.
If you’re working with treatment professionals or a support group, they understand the journey and are typically very compassionate, empathetic and supportive. If you’re no longer working with a treatment team, now is the time to re-contact them. They can help you identify what may be happening in your life that knocked you off the wagon and help get you back on your path.
You’re Not Alone
Remember, you’re not alone, even if it sometimes feels that way. Call the free, confidential National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2337 to talk with a Helpline volunteer who can offer support and guidance as well as provide suggestions regarding professional treatment in your area. Volunteers are available every Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm and Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (EST).
You can also call the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Helpline at 630-577-1330, Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Central Time or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Above all, be kind to yourself and remain calm. That doesn’t mean allowing yourself to find excuses. What it means is that you treat yourself with the compassion with which you would treat someone else in a support group. Trust the courage, commitment, and perseverance that gave you the strength to seek treatment in the first place. You haven’t lost them. Reclaim them and move forward.