Eating disorders are sadly a reality for many young people’s lives. Usually triggered at the start of puberty, 28.8 million Americans experience eating disorders in their lifetime, and that number keeps growing.
The most common type of eating disorders, and also the last to have been officially recognized in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is Binge Eating Disorder- also known under the abbreviation, BED.
People struggling with BED often don’t realize that they are suffering from an eating disorder. This results in millions of young Americans going undiagnosed and untreated, living a life of torment from their relationship with their food.
A person with BED may find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of dieting, binging, self-recrimination, and self-loathing. That’s why we wanted to dedicate this blog post to shed light on this matter in hopes of helping someone recognize that they are not alone and that there are ways of breaking free from the chains of BED.
What Is Binging?
Binging is characterized by a feeling of lack of self control- whether it’s lack of control with how much food is being consumed or the inability to stop yourself from eating.
A person who meets 3 or more of the following criteria is said to have Binge Eating Disorder:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not hungry
- Eating alone because of being embarrassed about how much food one is eating
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
It’s important to note that binging is more than overeating. Overeating is normal. Someone may overeat by having seconds at a family event or ordering two deserts instead of one on a date.
Binge Eating Disorder is a mental health disorder that can seriously impact someone’s physical and psychological health. People with BED find themselves continuously vowing to stop binging, however the compulsion and urges to binge are so strong that they find themselves incapable of resisting them.
So while an external appearance of “normal” eating is maintained, a person with BED is constantly fighting an internal battle they just can’t seem to win.
What Causes Binge Eating?
Binge eating can stem from many different factors of life. From genetics and upbringing to mental health and societal pressures, the following are 6 of the most general and universal reasons why someone may find themselves struggling with BED:
Eating disorders tend to run in families. A parent with a history of binge eating may pass that down to their children through their genes. While genetics don’t absolutely mean that someone will have an eating disorder, they do increase the odds of developing one compared to those who don’t carry that genetic disposition.
2.Family and upbringing
We are the results of the habits we are taught as children. Being exposed to a family member exhibiting BED behaviors subconsciously creates that habit in ourselves. A connection which entails that binging is a coping mechanism is created as a result and the eating disorder is once again passed down.
Researchers have noted a correlation between depression and binge eating. However, whether people binge because they are depressed or are depressed because they binge is not yet clear.
Self-esteem issues are at an all time high in today’s social media world. Constantly being exposed to seemingly perfect people with their perfect faces and perfect hair and perfect bodies and perfect lives causes a lot of damage to a young individual’s life. The pressure to want to be perfect leads to negative relationships with food- and one course that can be taken is in the form of binge eating.
5.Stress and anxiety
Emotional eating is common and normal. Food is comforting, so it’s completely normal to turn to your favorite food after a break or a stressful event. Where emotional eating differs from binge eating, however, is that emotion eating is often temporary and does not lead to chronic binge eating. That being said, people with BED are more likely to binge when they are feeling stressed or anxious.
Often as a result of poor self-esteem, extreme dieting is a major reason why people develop BED. Following unhealthy diets, skipping meals, or eating too little puts your body in a state of starvation and survival. This makes it so that eventually, your body takes over and forces you to binge to make up for the lack of calories and nutrients it requires to function normally.
What To Do After A Binging Episode
The journey to recovery is not an easy one. It’s full of ups and downs- so let this serve as a reminder that if you find yourself binging, it’s okay and it happens. If you do find yourself binging, here are a few steps to take to help make sure you don’t react in a way that would further harm you:
1.Don’t beat yourself up
A binging episode is often followed with a tsunami of negative feelings. Shame, hopelessness, anger, and disappointment are just a few of the emotions people get flooded with following a binge.
When this happens, remind yourself that binging happens and that healing is not a linear journey. Instead of beating yourself up, take time to take care of yourself. Befriend your body and realize that it is your home, not a billboard you showcase for the world to see.
2.Find out what went wrong
Once you’ve cooled yourself down, try to get reflective with what just happened. Figure out what triggered the binge. Was it hunger? Was it sadness? Was it stress? Did you have a bad day or encountered a negative situation?
As difficult as this step is, it’s important that you understand what triggered you and why. In fact, you owe it to yourself because understanding the cause and the reason behind your self-disruptive behaviors is the first step to moving forward with your healing journey.
3.Stick to your schedule
What seems like the natural thing to do after a binge is to fast or skip meals- this is the worst thing you could possibly do. Restricting yourself after a binge only puts you on yet another path that leads to binging once again.
Ideally, you want to continue with your regular routine. Say you binge on a Saturday night, don’t spend your Sunday fasting. Instead, get all your meals the next day and carry on normally. Your body will recalibrate by itself.
Skipping meals after a binge disrupts your routine, takes away from your structure, and causes internal chaos- it is a form of self-harm after all. Besides, the lack of structure from skipping meals is the ideal breeding ground for binging. So whatever you do, don’t start skipping meals.
4.Get out and about
Binging is a traumatic experience so the last thing you want to do is stay in the same environment where it happened.
Get out of the house, get out of the kitchen, and just leave the binge behind. Don’t try to isolate yourself and let the negative feelings brew. Go for a walk, go meet up with friends, listen to some music in the park- do anything that takes your mind off of what just happened. Again, nothing good comes out of beating yourself up over it.
5.Reach out for help
Having a solid support system is extremely important and beneficial. While it can be scary to open up to someone about eating disorders, it’s a great help to have a trusted family member or friend that you can turn to for some emotional support when you need it.
Remember that you are your worst critic. Talking to someone may help you get some new insight or even just help you take the weight off your shoulders. Get it off your chest- and who knows, you might even help someone else who’s struggling realize that they’re not alone.
The worst thing you can do after a binge is to isolate yourself and start planning your new diet and all the new food rules that go along with it. The diets we come up with in this state of mind tend to be extremely restrictive and act as a form of self-punishment. This will only lead to yet another binging episode which only reignites the cycle of binging and extreme dieting.
How To Stop A Binge Attack Before It Happens
As we mentioned above, it's important to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight. You will often feel like you want to binge during your healing process. But as time goes by, you will find that those urges appear less often and become easier to manage.
It goes without saying that seeking professional help is the best way to go, but self-help is also a good place to start. Hundreds of resources show you methods that will help you shed light on the subconscious thoughts and beliefs that fuel your BED. The more you are in a position to observe your behaviors and what is fueling them, the more control you will have over them.
There are, however, steps that you can take starting right now to help avoid binging and break yourself out of that cycle.
1.Schedule your meals and don’t skip them.
This will ensure that you have a structured meal plan and know exactly what to expect from your meals rather than just going by how you feel. Set yourself up for success and you will not fail.
2.Avoid temptation by planning ahead
Plan and schedule treats into your meal plan the same way you would schedule a break in your work day. Doing so will help you create a balanced lifestyle where you don’t feel restricted to eat the foods you love and helps you avoid a binge when you’re exposed to them.
3.Build yourself a support system
Whether it's a family member, a friend, or someone you met from an online community, having someone to go to in your times of weakness can help alleviate the pressure of going on this journey all by yourself. Of course, you must remember not to become dependent on your support system- you have to keep yourself accountable at the end of the day. No one’s going to put in the work for you.
Binging is often triggered due to your body craving dopamine which is released when eating food. Exercise, whether it's a daily walk, a workout, or a pilates class, is not only a great stress reliever but also an excellent way to release “happy” hormones such as dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin.
5.Follow a high fiber and high protein diet
Fiber and protein take lots of time to digest meaning they will help keep you full and satiated for long periods of time so you spend less time fighting off cravings and more time investing in the things you love.
6.Find alternative ways to destress
Meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises are great for grounding and reconnecting with your inner child so you can better understand what’s hurting them. This is key to your recovery.
Your body doesn’t recognize the difference between thirst and hunger. Drinking lots of water helps you avoid false hunger cues that can lead to losing control and binging.
Probably the most difficult thing to conquer, mindfulness when eating is the goal for anyone recovering from an eating disorder, especially when it comes to BED. One tip that’s helped me a lot is to always have my hands empty in between bites. This helps slow down my eating so I can better process my body’s hunger cues.
If you feel an urge to binge surfacing:
- Sit with your emotions
- Get up and do something that will take your mind off of food
- Phone a friend and talk it out
- Go to your happy place
- Stay positive
At the end of the day, the goal is to heal the part of you that is hurting. You can’t do that if you’re constantly putting yourself down or engaging in behaviors that cause you harm. The journey, unfortunately, will not be an easy one. But I can confidently say that not breaking the pattern is even harder to live with.
If you or a loved one are struggling with BED or any other type of eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorder Association so you can get the help you need today. You can:
Call or text (800) 931-2237 or join their live chat