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We all go through moments where we want to binge eat on our comfort foods and have weekends where we are naughty with lots of treats and takeaways. Or when we are experiencing stress or a difficult time in our lives, we may binge eat our favourite snacks in high quantities. For most of us, this is an urge that we deal with and move on from. For some people, binge eating can become very serious, so much so that it is a diagnosable disorder. There are many statistics, facts, myths and signs of Binge Eating Disorder and importantly, there is treatment.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a type of feeding and eating disorder. It affects almost 2% of people worldwide and can cause additional health issues linked to diets, such as high cholesterol levels and diabetes, this is due to the amount of and type of food consumed. 

People with BED may eat a lot of food in a short amount of time, even if they aren’t hungry. Emotional stress or distress for the person often plays a role as a potential trigger for a period of binge eating. In the end, the person will feel uncomfortably full. These binges of food are often planned in advance, happen alone, and the person will feel ashamed or guilty after it. There is often a particular “special binge food” that sufferers will reach for.

This eating disorder will typically be experienced or developed as a way of dealing with a deeper issue or another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression. This particular eating disorder will affect 2% of the population. It can develop in men or women of any age, but is usually more common in the late teens or early 20s.

What Are The Signs/Symptoms?

If someone is suffering from BED these are the most common signs and symptoms:

  • eating much more rapidly than normal
  • eating until uncomfortably full
  • not being able to stop when feeling full
  • eating large amounts without feeling hungry
  • eating alone due to feelings of embarrassment and shame
  • feelings of guilt or disgust with oneself
  • trying to hide how much they’re eating
  • storing up supplies of food
  • putting on weight (but this does not happen to everyone with binge eating disorder)

Another important characteristic is for the person to not take any action to “undo” a binge episode. This is very different to say someone with Bulimia, a person with BED does not throw up, take laxatives, or over-exercise to try and counteract the episode of eating.

What Are The Causes?

As mentioned before, in most cases, BED is a way of coping with other mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Almost 80% of sufferers will have an underlying condition. 

It can be brought on by experiencing some kind of emotional trauma. Our bodies do and need very strange things when we are stressed and anxious. Stressful life events such as abuse, a death, a car accident, or family separation are situations that may cause a person to develop BED. 

If you have been brought up around eating disorders, in particular BED, then you are more likely to develop it yourself. This is due to being exposed to it through a close family member, possibly from a young age, and being led to believe that this is a normal way of life and is healthy. 

People with BED often experience feelings of extreme unhappiness and distress about their body shape, and weight. Childhood bullying about the shape and size of their body, or constantly having thoughts about being slim or curvy etc can put a strain on someone to then cause them to develop BED.

How Is It Diagnosed?

As stated at the start, we all have times in our lives when we overeat to the point where we are uncomfortable. But those are rare situations and are few and far between for most of us. To be diagnosed, a person must have had at least one binge eating episode per week for a minimum of three months. The severity of BED ranges from mild. The severity is based on how many episodes a person experiences. Mild is one to three binge eating episodes per week. Extreme is characterised by 14 or more episodes per week. 

What Are The Health Risks?

BED is associated with several significant physical, emotional, and social health risks.

This is clearly not a healthy way to live your life. Binge eating, most likely comfort food, frequently, almost certainly means that you are not getting your recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables.

Up to 50% of people with BED are classed as obese, this is due to the increased calorie intake during binging episodes. This then brings with it its own health problems such as heart disease, heart failure and diabetes. 

Other health risks linked with BED are sleep problems, chronic pain conditions, asthma and IBS. People with BED are more likely to need hospital care, either as an outpatient or in emergency department visits, compared with those who don’t have a feeding or eating disorder.

How Can BED Be Treated?

Although BED is a severe condition, most people recover from binge eating disorder with the right support and treatment, but it may take time. It is about building up a better relationship with food and your emotions. Your GP or a mental health professional can provide advice on selecting an individual treatment plan.

The main treatment options include cognitive behavioural therapy or weight loss therapy and these may be carried out on a one-to-one basis, in a group setting, or in a self-help format. There is also the option of medication. It depends on the person who needs the treatment and what will work best for them to address the issues. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for BED will focus on analysing the relationships between the negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours related to eating, body shape, and weight. Then, once the causes of negative emotions and patterns have been identified, strategies can be developed to help people change them. Sessions may include setting goals, self-monitoring, achieving regular meal patterns, activities to help change thoughts about self and weight, and encouraging healthy weight-control habits.

All clinicians at Oxford CBT practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or are Psychologists, providing evidence-based interventions and support for a range of issues for both young people and adults. If you would like to book an appointment you can do so on our online booking portal. If you have a question please get in touch via our online contact form or call us on 01865 920077. 

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