In today’s image obsessed world, we’ve all at some time wished for our idol’s toned physique, svelte body or defined torso. Size zero is the new size eight, lollipop heads the norm and the photos in magazine are flawlessly perfect. It’s therefore little wonder that cases of anorexia and bulimia nervosa are tragically on the rise as people feel compelled to achieve the beautiful but impossible. As familiar as these conditions are, however, another, even bigger, darker problem, is far less recognised and understood: Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
It's estimated that a round 1 in 4 adults suffer from BED at some time in their lives. Referred to by some as the ‘Cinderella problem’, it's thought to kill more people than anorexia and bulimia combined, yet it still remains widely unacknowledged. Many sufferers do not seek help, either because they feel too embarrassed and ashamed, or because they don’t realise support is available.
Psychologist Deanne Jade, founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders says, “It’s the king of them all. It’s a double problem in terms of mental health and weight and, furthermore, it has serious health implications."
What is BED?
BED is characterised by the uncontrollable urge to eat large quantities of food, usually in a mindless state and in a short space of time. Many sufferers binge to suppress or distract themselves from difficult feelings such as stress, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and self-loathing.
Most of them binge on high fat, high sugar foods, as dietician Kate Nelson explains, “These offer some comfort as the sugar provides a rush and foods such as chocolate trigger the release of endorphins that lifts mood.” BED sufferers don’t usually purge after a binge or use laxatives, so overindulging, particularly in these foods, means many BED sufferers are overweight or obese.
So is BED a psychological disorder with physical side effects?
Rose Aghdami, a chartered psychologist who specialises in the psychology of emotional eating, says, “It is crucial to acknowledge that BED is a psychological disorder, in that the binging occurs as an unhealthy coping strategy to deal with difficult emotions.”
However, Nelson also believes binging can be induced by extreme weight-loss plans. “In my experience, some patients do not binge eat for comfort, but actually overeat as a result of being on a strict diet.”
Spotting the signs
One of the reasons it has taken so long to recognise BED is because it is difficult to define. As Jade so aptly puts it, “One man’s binge is another man’s meal.”
What constitutes a ‘binge’ and defines Binge Eating Disorder varies greatly from one person to the next. While some people will be or become overweight, others might not. For many people it stems from an emotional trigger, but again, not always. Jade says, “BED is a troubled relationship with food, but you don’t always have to define it.”
To spot the signs of Binge Eating Disorder ask yourself the following questions, but keep in mind everyone is different:
- Do I eat much faster than normal?
- Do I eat until feeling uncomfortably full?
- Do I eat a large amount of food when I’m not hungry?
- Do I eat alone or secretly due to embarrassment about the amount of food I consume?
- Do I feel guilty, shamed or disgusted after overeating?
- Do I feel abnormal?
- Do I feel ‘taken over’ as if by another presence in respect of eating?
- Do I try to compensate for overeating by dieting or restraining food?
- Do I feel in control when surrounded by food?
- Do I feel insecure if I can’t eat my favourite foods?
- Do I feel attacked by food?
- Does eating interfere with and/or control my life?
Putting it to BED
It appears to be more difficult to define BED, than it is to overcome it. Jade says, “It’s really not that difficult to treat. We remove the focus from food and instead concentrate on building up the person so they feel in control and strengthened.” This can be achieved through some mental flexibility training, nutritional rehab, communication skills and stress training.
Jade explains that BED treatment looks at a person’s relationship with food and monitors patterns in binging to see what causes them. “The binging patterns begin to inform the sufferer about their eating behaviour and help them to understand the root causes.”
Aghdami agrees saying, “These emotions have to be identified and addressed, so that the person learns more appropriate ways of dealing with them. Keeping a mood and food diary can be a good first step in discovering which emotions underlie the problem.” This involves keeping a daily written record of what is eaten and how much, as well as the feelings experienced just before the binge.
As well as managing your mindset and relationship with food, it’s important to know what to eat and how to change your diet in order to beat BED.
The Biggest Loser Club dietician Tanya Power advises to follow a healthy and balanced eating plan including low-calorie snacks, and make sure that exercise is a regular part of your daily routine. Power says, “Don’t allow yourself to get hungry. Eat small, frequent meals, but try not to eat to the point where you are full. You should be aiming for a feeling of satiety or 'satisfaction' instead.”
While Power advises not to have temptation in the house, she also says, “Remember that it is also important to allow treats occasionally, otherwise this can lead to further binges on unhealthy foods and can become an ongoing cycle.”
When it comes to weight loss, Jade believes that if you don’t treat the eating disorder, you will be less likely to stick to a healthy-eating plan. “If left untreated, binge eating will leave a person’s chances at weight loss almost zero. And if they do succeed, in two years it’s almost 100% likely they will have regained.”
If you think you might be suffering from Binge Eating Disorder consult an eating disorder specialist. Always check they have the relevant qualifications and experience. You can contact Deanne Jade on 0845 838 2040 or at
. You can also read
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
(NICE) guidelines. You can also find
advice from the NHS