What is Binge Eating Disorder and How to Know if You Have It?

Overcoming Obesity Binge Eating Disorder 02/26/2016

Overcoming Obesity Series 3 of 4: Binge Eating Disorder

Disordered Eating

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is an Impulse Control Disorder (ICD): we fail to control the impulse or urge to do a self-harming behaviour – in this case binging rapidly on large amounts of food. It is in the vein of other disorders like Trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling). Over time, BED can result in a physiological tolerance to large quantities of food, and feel similar to an addiction with withdrawal symptoms when it is stopped.  Like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, (OCD), BED runs in families and can benefit from anti-anxiety treatment.

The Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Most of us have binged on large quantities of food a few times in our lives. But you may have a disorder if you find yourself at least twice a week, for a period of at least 6 weeks:

  • Consuming large quantities in a state of feeling out of control,
  • Eating extremely quickly and in large quantities
  • Ignoring physical discomfort to keep eating
  • Blanking out emotionally while eating- feeling little or no emotion, positive or negative
  • Eating alone or secretly
  • Feeling disgusted with what you’ve done after eating, followed by shame, depression and guilt

Other Eating Disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa – emaciation and fear of getting fat,
  • Bulimia nervosa – binge eating and purging,

Binge Eating vs Emotional Eating

If we are rewarding or soothing ourselves emotionally with food, we call this “emotional eating”. Most emotional eating is less about ICD and more of a habit conditioned by lifelong patterns of consuming food as a reward, as a source of comfort, or response to boredom or loneliness. Forming better habits, increasing awareness of emotional triggers, food tracking all play a part. It’s important to re-align one’s reward behaviors away from food help change emotional eating. Unfortunately that’s not going to be enough for many people with Binge Eating Disorder, which may benefit from anti-anxiety therapy and intensive treatment.

What to Look For: Risks for Disordered Eating

Deprivation. Binge eating behavior is increased in unsuccessfully dieting obese women. With unsustainable dieting behaviors where we restrict our calories, the body comes back roaring. Obese women are more likely to binge to counteract the hunger of dieting not only because of the strain on our willpower that dieting entails but also because the binge-restrict cycle disrupts the healthy leptin response.

Power of Food. The Power of Food Scale measures individual differences in our reaction to tasty food, independent of our physical hunger. The Power of Food scale measures a hunger for pleasure from food. People who have high ratings on the Power of Food scale think a lot about food and may be prone to binge eating.Depression - Anxiety - Overcoming Obesity Eating Disorder

The Sad/Mad/Anxious Factor. As well, having strongly negative thoughts and emotions including self-loathing can set you up for an eating disorder. Food can be used to comfort, to distract from and self-soothe emotions like sadness, disappointment and anger. In some cases, more extreme disordered behaviors like vomiting can be used as an emotional catharsis. Sadly, early puberty can be a factor in setting up a negative or anxious mindset about one’s body.

Purity Gone Bad. Perfectionism is not just a risk factor for anorexia. While anorexia involves a relentless pursuit of a thin ideal, perfectionism also rears its head in rigid relationships with food, known as orthorexia (extreme food purity). In orthorexia, starvation may be a side effect to having to keep to impossibly “pure” eating plans.

Contributing to the Problem. We can all play a part in counteracting societal pressure to be thin, another risk factor for disordered eating. Catch yourself complementing someone who has lost weight. Look for ways we idealize thinness. And hold back on expressing any criticism of appearance or statements of envy for those who are thin. Pressure to be thin is a risk for anorexia, bulimia and—perhaps surprisingly—binge eating & obesity.

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