Binge eating rates are something that is becoming more prominent in today’s society. For many people binging can contribute to weight gain or health issues for them, as well as difficulties with the distress it causes. For others, it can be getting in the way of their goals or their day to day life. Binge eating at its core is psychological, and the most effective binge eating treatment involves psychological interventions. Without knowing the subtle differences, binge eating may be hard to distinguish from emotional, boredom or stress eating, and it can be quite hard for someone to untangle what exactly is going on for them. The purposes of this piece are to help you understand binge eating, and whether it might be a good idea to talk to someone and get support around it.
What is binge eating?
Binge eating is quite common, and not everyone meets each of the criteria. One of the common criteria among disordered eating is the preoccupation with body size/shape or appearance. For binge eating specifically, the symptoms include:
· Eating quicker than normal
· Eating past feeling full
· Associated distress related to binging
· Loss of control
· Absence of compensatory behaviours (e.g. purging)
When should I get support?
If you identify with any of the symptoms above and you feel that it’s impacting your health, your goals or your life, you should get support from a mental health professional.
Who should I get support from?
Often people turn to a PT or nutritionist to manage their binging. Remember that binge eating at it’s core is psychological, therefore getting support from a psychologist or mental health professional is important. Some dietitians are trained in disordered eating, however many are not. It’s best to consider psychology as a core part of addressing the problem, and will give you the best chance of changing your behaviour.
The end goal is the help someone have a more healthy relationship with food, and be able to enjoy a variety of foods without limiting or restricting certain foods.
What are the types of binge eating treatment?
Right now, the best forms of binge eating treatment are psychological treatments. CBT is one of the primary evidence based treatments, and other strands of therapy have also been used, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT).
Depending on your needs, a therapist could use multiple approaches. What happens during the intervention is described below.
What happens during binge eating treatment?
A professional can help identify the root issues that are fuelling your binge eating, and help you manage them in a safe and healthy way. This can vary for many different people, and a professional is the best person to help you understand what’s going on for you. Some of the common factors include:
Often a component of binging is restrictive dieting or rigid food rules. The end goal is the help someone have a more healthy relationship with food, and be able to enjoy a variety of foods without limiting or restricting certain foods. Rigid dieting and restriction often can trigger binges, and reinforces the binge eating cycle.
Low mood/coping strategy
Sometimes binging can be due to an unmet psychological need or a learned coping strategy. While food can be comforting, if it is someone’s only coping strategy, it can create some difficulties for the individual. This is one of the core aspects of how psychology can assist with binging. Going to see a mental health professional will hopefully teach you some new tools and strategies to manage emotional distress in the moment. There is also associated distress with the behaviour of binging, where the feelings of guilt and shame often reinforce the restrictive process, which in turn contributes to binging.
Preoccupation with body image/size/weight
One aspect that seems fundamental for binge eaters is the preoccupation or overvaluation of body weight, size or appearance. Although it can be quite scary for some people, addressing this issue could help someone move away from this preoccupation to a point where they can be more comfortable with themselves.
Managing food anxiety
Food anxiety can crop up for people when they are struggling with binge eating, to the point where the strict rules about good and bad/healthy and unhealthy foods often contributes to anxiety around food. This could mean that someone who is struggling finds consuming certain foods distressing, and actively avoids those foods. A goal of addressing binge eating would be allowing the individual autonomy and choice in being able to decide, rather than fear or anxiety dictating their food choices.
Managing setbacks and lapses during binge eating treatment
No road to change is easy, and there will be lapses along the way. What the research has found is that those who successfully manage those lapses with a more constructive, long-term view, have better outcomes than those who don’t. Managing these lapses is something that a mental health professional can help with, and is an important part of making long-term, lasting changes.
For more information on eating disorders and their treatment, click here.
Written by Joe O’Brien