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Everyone seems to overeat once in a while, but when this behavior tends to linger on and happens more frequently, it potentially indicates an underlying psychiatric condition. Binge eating disorder, or BED, is one of the most serious yet treatable types of eating disorder in the world. Characterized by recurring episodes of consuming large quantities of food every quickly, the disorder was formally recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013. Most people diagnosed with BED feel out of control when eating and end up feeling shame or guilt over their association with food.

While the disorder may seem harmless, it tends to get so intense for the victims that their overall health and well-being take a direct hit. Such people gain weight, lose confidence and self-esteem and gradually withdraw from all social activities to hide their shame. These negative consequences make it critical to catch the disorder in time and get the necessary binge eating disorder help as soon as possible.

Binge Eating Disorder

Excessive is common and harmless if done occasionally or once in a while. However, when it starts happening more frequently and affects the overall health and quality of life, the problem is called a binge eating disorder.

Not everyone who tends to eat more than usual suffers from a binge eating disorder. To identify BED accurately, it is important to know the main differences between overeating and binge eating.

Overeating can happen to anyone. You may return for a second plate of your favorite meal, indulge in too many slices of pizza, or finish a large bag of popcorn halfway into a movie. No set guidelines determine how much food is too much to be labeled as “overeating.”

Overeating happens to everyone. You might indulge in too many slices of pizza, go back for seconds of a favorite meal, or even consume too much popcorn as you watch a late-night movie. On the other hand, binge eating differs from overeating because binge eaters consume food more rapidly, lose control over the amount of food they eat, feel guilt after a binge episode, and usually prefer eating alone due to the embarrassment associated with overeating.

If you are not sure that you are just an overeater or suffering from a binge eating disorder, ask yourself the following two questions:

  • Are you eating your regular food in an amount larger than what most people will eat under the same circumstances and amount of time?
  • What are your feelings after you overeat?

While experts are not sure about the exact cause of binge eating disorder, most believe it is a combination of environmental, biological, and sociocultural factors. Studies suggest that people with this eating disorder often use overeating to deal with their sadness, stress, anxiety, boredom, or anger. Some other factors that may contribute to BED disorder include:

Issues with Body Image

Depending more on physical appearance and body weight for self-esteem is one of the most significant causes triggering BED patterns. People with a negative body image are naturally at a high risk of developing this psychiatric disorder.

Obesity

Although BED can hit individuals of all sizes, it is particularly prevalent in those who are overweight or obese. People with an underlying binge eating disorder are up to six times more likely to be obese than those without any eating disorder.

Genetics

Certain psychiatric disorders, including BED, tends to run in families. People with a heightened sensitivity to reward, which usually manifests in the form of increased dopamine levels in the brain, contribute to this condition.

Miscellaneous Psychological Conditions

Most people with BED suffer from other psychological conditions, like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorder.

Trauma

Experiencing stressful events in the past, such as separation from family, death of a loved one, or accidents, also contributes to the development of binge eating disorder.

People with binge eating disorders usually feel out of control and tend to overeat at least once a week for three months. It may not always be obvious when individual struggles with this psychiatric issue, as many people tend to hide it out of embarrassment or shame. In general, most binge-eating episodes exhibit at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Eating faster than normal
  • Eating large amounts of food, even when not hungry
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone to avoid embarrassment
  • Feeling depressed, guilty, or disgusted after a binge session

Disruption in eating behaviors, avoiding eating in public, finding empty containers and wrappers around the house, etc., are also some additional signs of a binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder also triggers the following physical symptoms in most people:

  • Weight fluctuations 
  • Gastrointestinal issues, including stomach pain, acid reflux, etc.
  • Poor concentration
  • Increased risk of stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc.

The psychological symptoms associated with BED include:

  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Dissatisfaction with body shape
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Polarized thoughts about binge avoidance and dieting
  • Over-evaluating body weight and shape

Seeking Binge Eating Disorder Help

BED can be a severely disruptive disease, and seeking treatment becomes necessary for everyone suffering from it. An appropriate BED treatment plan can help victims stop their binge sessions and establish healthy relationships with food. Treatment usually includes medications, psychotherapy, and nutritional counseling, all of which aim to rebuild the victim’s physical health while encouraging them to adopt healthy eating practices.

Psychotherapy

The following types of psychotherapy can treat BED:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective evidence-based forms of psychotherapy for BED that helps victims reduce or completely abstain from food binges. It works by identifying and managing the underlying beliefs and thoughts related to an individual’s body shape, weight, and eating behaviors that supposedly contribute to BED. 
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IT) is a type of talk therapy that convinces people to stop binge eating in the long and short term. The therapy focuses on managing all underlying issues that trigger the binge eating urges and using them as a method of coping. For instance, an interpersonal psychotherapy session may focus on remedying the feelings of sadness or grief that a person may try to avoid by using binge eating as a form of maladaptive coping.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) helps individuals overcome their urge to binge eat by teaching them healthier coping skills and encouraging them to deal with negative triggers and emotions through newer ways, such as distress tolerance and mindfulness training.

People who undergo the therapies mentioned above usually have more than 60 percent of remission rates and can maintain their improvement over the long term.

Medications

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are a class of antidepressants that most experts prescribe to people with diagnosed BED. These medications alter the brain chemicals to regulate anxiety, mood, appetite, and other functions. By preventing the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain, SSRIs increase their levels, which seems to help reduce the binging frequency and promote abstinence.

Lisdexamfetaminedimesylate or Vyvanse is another approved medication for treating binge eating disorders of moderate to severe intensity. Clinical trials have proven its efficacy in decreasing the number of binges per week by regulating the levels of dopamine in the brain. However, remember that Vyvanse is a stimulant with a risk of abuse; hence, patients must use it vigilantly and only as advised by their doctor.

Nutritional Counseling

People with BED also benefit from nutritional counseling under the supervision and lead of a registered dietitian. It usually involves medical nutrition therapy or nutritional rehabilitation, which is an approach that uses specific dietary recommendations to promote healing. As a part of nutritional counseling, people get advice from dietitians regarding how they can make peace with food while overcoming binge eating challenges and normalizing eating behaviors. A dietitian may also help them regulate their intake by recommending a meal plan tailored to their needs.

Along with professional treatment, most people with binge eating disorder benefit from certain coping strategies. These strategies sustain their remission and help improve the quality of life.

Some important strategies for controlling BED include:

  • Practice intuitive eating, such as eating when you are hungry instead of eating for emotional reasons
  • Using the distraction technique to prevent or delay binges, such as playing sports, reading books, or listening to music
  • Respecting your body by getting adequate rest, avoiding harmful substances, exercising, etc.
  • Practicing mindful eating by focusing on what and how much you eat
  • Eating in a quiet environment with no distractions, such as TV
  • Talking to someone about your emotions or journaling
  • Spending some time in nature to reconnect with your environment

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