Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is the most common of all the types of eating disorders, estimated to be at least three times as common as anorexia, with the numbers affected in the UK far beyond a million. However, most sufferers would not identify themselves as having a classified eating disorder. Typically, they feel they have a ‘problem with food’ a lack of self-control and this causes their weight gain.
Here we will consider the questions below; particularly what is distinctive about binge eating disorder and what this means for treatment.
- What is binge eating disorder?
- What are the symptoms of binge eating disorder?
- What are the causes of binge eating disorder?
Although most people experience times when they ‘overdo it’ with their favourite food, or indulge in some comfort eating, binge eating disorder symptoms are different: characterised by an overwhelming sense of the loss of control. The sufferer overeats to a degree that is uncomfortable and unpleasant. The loss of control can be so great that the sufferer may have little memory of the binge, or a sense of disengagement while they are doing so.
The binge is usually triggered by difficult feelings and after food is consumed, there is further distress and guilt, locking the sufferer into a distressing cycle.
Some guides suggest binges involve the consumption of more than 2,000 calories in a short period of time, usually focusing on sugary carbohydrates, but there will be individual variation. They key binge eating disorder symptoms, however, will be the complete loss of control and the psychological distress the condition causes and perpetuates.
Unlike bulimia nervosa, people with binge eating disorder do not ‘purge’ to compensate for large food intake, so sufferers often are overweight and in a pattern of further weight gain. They may develop related problems, such as Type 2 diabetes.
Other symptoms include: difficulties eating with others in ‘normal’ social settings (as the sufferer is trapped in a cycle of bingeing and feelings of guilt and shame), mood swings and an obsessional relationship with food.
Binge eating disorder causes are emotionally based. The traditional challenge in correctly diagnosing and treating people lies in establishing the root cause. People who are very overweight are often seen as having poor nutritional habits and knowledge (poor income/lack of access to healthy food may also be a factor). These difficulties may be addressed by good nutritional advice and ongoing support. But this would not be effective for someone with binge eating disorder because the root cause driving their cycle of bingeing is emotional; unless this is addressed, lifestyle changes will not be maintained.
However, there is a positive outlook for binge eating disorders treatment. There is now a good body of evidence for a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) based approach which can be delivered either in self-help programmes or sessions with a psychologist. CBT involves making links between thoughts, feelings and behaviour and taking a problem-solving approach, focusing, for example on what causes a binge and how to alleviate the triggers for this response.
This treatment approach shows good outcomes for binge eating disorders recovery and improvements in awareness of this distressing condition, which should support more people to seek help and treatment.
We have an outpatient clinic for adults as well as young people, treating eating disorders including bulimia and binge eating disorder.