Binge eating is common and you are not alone. In fact, binge eating disorder is now the most common eating disorder diagnosed in the United States, even though it oftentimes gets unrecognized and untreated.
What is binge eating disorder?
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe and life-threatening eating disorder characterized by frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food. Often times this is accompanied by a loss of control and followed by feelings of shame and guilt. During a binge eating episode, it can feel hard to stop. Sadly, binge eating disorder wasn’t recognized in de the DSM until the 2013 revision, DSM-5.
All eating disorder subtypes present differently but they all share a total disconnection between the body and the mind. They all share underlying feelings of not being good enough and thrive on a lack of confidence and self-esteem. That’s why recovery of binge eating disorder is challenging but possible.
But why do you binge? Why is it so hard to break that cycle? You’ve tried to stop so many times, only to fall back into the same old patterns and destructive behaviors that offer a short-term relief but only make you feel more miserable in the long term. Before you can stop engaging in binge eating it’s important to understand what’s leading up to a binge.
Below are 5 reasons why you binge and how to stop.
1. Mental Patterns
When we think of mental patterns we think of things like cognitive distortions, perfectionism, self-criticism, or all-or-nothing thinking. Binge eating is oftentimes triggered by all of the above. For example, you tell yourself that you can’t eat a muffin for breakfast so when you do it feels like you ruined everything and you might as well binge. There is a lot of self-sabotaging happening before and during the binge. Once you engage in binge eating it can make you feel ashamed which then ultimately only reinforces the binge and strengthens that belief that you have to finish the binge. This typically happens in isolation and is accompanied by a complete loss of control.
So what can you do? Mindfulness. Notice that you want to engage in or plan a binge. Now pause. What are you feeling? Are you feeling sad, anxious, or lonely? Did someone say something mean to you? Do you feel overwhelmed? It’s paying attention to what triggers you. The next step is realizing that you can’t change those feelings or triggers but you can change your reaction, and your behavior. If you already started a binge, stop and realize that you don’t have to finish it. Or maybe you need to call someone or eat something to soothe your hunger. There is so much power in interrupting the cycle.
2. Nutritional Imbalances
Oftentimes, when someone starts the eating disorder recovery process, it’s important to acknowledge that their brain is not working at full capacity because they have a starved brain. Contrary to the belief, binge eating disorder is also a restrictive eating disorder. Leora Fulvio, MFT, and author of Reclaiming yourself from binge eating, says that those struggling with binge eating disorder have a lot of brain fog and malnutrition and lack the capacity to really think through their decisions because their brain is not fed.
So the first thing to do in recovery, regardless of body size, is to make sure that you get appropriate nutrition throughout the day.
3. Physical triggers
Pain can be a huge physical trigger. Binge eating then serves as a way to self-soothe. There are also more external physical triggers such as being in an environment that increases the urge to binge like being home with family over the holidays. Other environmental physical triggers can be places where you’ve binged before, certain foods, clothes, or even people. Being aware of these triggers can help you deal with these moments in a way other than engaging in a binge. When you know triggers will be present you can come up with a plan. For example, when you know going to a family gathering is triggering, bring a friend, or set a timer to do some deep breathing exercise, or listen to uplifting music.
4. Emotional Stressors
There are many different emotional stressors but the common underlying stressor is fear. Fear of anything. This could be the fear of remembering things you don’t want to remember or the fear of thinking about things that you’re afraid of. Leora Fulvio, MFT says that the main solution is to allow those feelings to be present. Letting them be there and waiting for them to pass naturally. The more you allow feelings to be there without trying to numb them with food, exercise, alcohol, or any other coping mechanism, the less power they will have and the more you realize that feelings come and go on their own.
Leora Fulvio, MFT, shares how binge eating disorder and ADHD have a lot in common, especially impulse control issues when it comes to dopamine-seeking behaviors but also when it comes to distraction, procrastination, changing attention, or feelings.
Another aspect of neurobiology is sensory-seeking behavior. People who struggle with sensory processing need a lot of intense physical sensations or emotions. For example, being uncomfortably full or uncomfortably hungry, rather than just satisfied and comfortable. OCD traits also have a lot of overlap with binge eating disorder which just shows how multifaceted it is.
In order to recover it’s really important to understand these underlying aspects of how your brain functions and how that might affect your eating disorder. A (virtual) treatment team can help you with this and how to come up with healthy coping mechanisms.
Remember, food is not the enemy and you are not the problem.
When you work with your feelings and emotions and discover your body’s individual needs, recovery is possible.