When people think of eating disorders, they often think of a thin physique or body dysmorphic disorder. The term “eating disorder” often leads to two different paths: anorexia or bulimia

We are quick to neglect a severe eating disorder that can lead to both mental and physical complications: Binge Eating Disorder (also known as BED). 

BED is defined as compulsive overeating – usually recurring for a duration of six or more months. 

BED was first discovered and researched by Alberta Stunkard in 1959. Since it’s birth, numerous studies have been done on the symptoms, causes and treatments of BED. 

To be diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder, three or more symptoms must be present: rapid eating, feelings of guilt or disgust with oneself, eating large quantities when you’re not hungry, eating until uncomfortably full or eating alone due to embarrassment or shame of the condition.

The act of binge eating often provides temporary relief to somebody who is struggling with external stressors or internal anguish. Despite immediate feelings of comfort, BED sufferers often feel shame, guilt or embarrassment following a binge. These negative feelings will then fuel a nasty cycle effect. 

BED is more common in women than it is men. About 50% of BED patients are obese – which, in turn, means that 50% of BED patients can be considered average in weight. This creates a problematic eating disorder to pinpoint.

If you suspect that somebody you love is suffering from a Binge Eating Disorder, the Mayo Clinic has outlined several signs that you can watch out for: 

  • Continues eating once full 
  • Inability to stop eating 
  • Secretly stockpiling food 
  • Stress or anxiety around mealtime 
  • Refuses to eat in a group setting

Unfortunately, BED (like other eating disorders) comes with a variety of complications that may arise if the disorder isn’t under control. Long-term BED can lead to cardiovascular disease, insomnia, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal problems, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, muscle/joint pain and depression and anxiety. 

Many researchers and scientists believe that psychological effects can result in BED. For example, low self-esteem or body insecurities can trigger this disorder. However, there may be biological and social/cultural factors that add to the stressors causing BED. 

To date, three therapies are most heavily relied on by medical professionals to treat Binge Eating Disorders.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is rooted in the belief that emotional difficulties and negative thoughts cause BED. Once the relationships between negative emotions and binge eating are discovered, therapists then strategize how to create healthier relationships between food and feelings. Common practices within CBT are setting goals, self-monitoring, changing meal patterns and control weight. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is proven to be one of the most effective strategies when treating patients with BED. 

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) 

IPT is based on the ideology that binge eating is simply a coping mechanism for other unresolved pain points in a patient’s life. For example, pain points may be grief, stress, or social problems.

IPT then works to discover the underlying cause and treat them accordingly. IPT has shown positive effects in both longterm and short-term studies. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

DBT views binge eating as an emotional reaction to negative experiences. This therapy focuses on four primary areas of improvement: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. 

The purpose of DBT is to teach the patient to regulate emotional responses to assist with coping. 

Despite some positive research regarding therapy, medications may be administered to assist with the process. 

If you suspect that somebody you love is suffering from BED, the first thing you should do is practice openness and discuss your concerns honestly. 

During healing, the support of friends and family are vital to anybody suffering from an eating disorder. However, there are more things you can do to help somebody heal from BED: 

  • Encourage them to keep a food diary! You can begin one as well. It’s an excellent way to track meals and portion sizes. 
  • Meditate and practice mindfulness together. Help centre their mind, body and soul. Mindfulness can be a significant factor in understanding hunger symptoms. 
  • Choose healthy foods. When somebody you know is overcoming alcoholism, you probably won’t bring vodka home. The same awareness is critical with BED sufferers. Keep the food in the home healthy and limit temptations. 
  • Encourage them to start exercising! Exercising can often result in positive changes that feel good! 
  • Encourage them to get enough sleep and keep a sleep log.

Written by Celina Dawdy