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Understanding Mental Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Overview of Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

BED is a serious mental health condition characterised by the consumption of a much larger amount of food than normal in a short period of time. These individuals experience a loss of control when the food is consumed, and these episodes occur regularly. BED can affect an individual from any age group, gender or background and is more common than Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Someone who has BED isn’t greedy and does not take satisfaction out of these episodes. In fact, these episodes are highly distressing for these individuals and are associated with a kind of dissociation from the event.

Symptoms of BED

Do you experience episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short time frame? Do you feel a lack of control or disconnect when these episodes occur? Are these episodes characterised by eating rapidly, feeling extremely full, eating large amounts when not hungry or feeling embarrassed, disgusted and/or depressed after an episode? Do these episodes make you very distressed? If you identify with any of these symptoms, then you might be suffering from BED and should seek a professional opinion. Individuals with BED might consume large amounts of food in a short time frame. This short time frame could be anywhere within a few minutes or a few hours. The location of the binge does not matter, a person just needs to be consuming food consistently across this time frame. Some individuals plan their binges and it can become a ritualistic exercise, whereby they buy special foods and arrange for a time to be alone. When the planning and eating takes place, individuals report a lack of control. Some may describe it as an out of body experience where they felt that they were not in control of what was happening and there is a disconnect. Individuals with BED will have these binges when they are not hungry, they will eat more rapidly than usual and will continue eating even when they are extremely, uncomfortably full. Individuals with BED are usually ashamed of their binges and feel that they need to hide them, therefore these are normally done in secret. Intense feelings of shame, depression, guilt and self-hatred are common after a binging episode. The occurrence and aftermath of these episodes are extremely distressing for the person involved. The severity of binge eating disorder varies, although according to the DSM: • 1-3 binge eating episodes per week qualify as mild • 4-7 binge eating episodes per week qualify as moderate • 8-13 binge eating episodes per week qualify as severe • 14 or more binge eating episodes per week qualify as extreme Aside from the detrimental effects BED can have on a person’s emotional state, it can also have significant functional consequences. Individuals with BED have increased rates of morbidity than the general population, may put on a significant amount of weight and can lead to obesity. Additionally, they tend to experience lower life satisfaction and find it more difficult to adjust to life experiences and social experiences.
BED is not to be confused with bulimia nervosa, which is a disorder that is also characterised by the consumption of large amounts of food, however it is followed by ‘purging’ behaviours aimed to eliminate food from the body to avoid weight gain, for example forced vomiting.

What causes BED?

While we cannot be certain of the exact cause of BED, it is thought to be a combination of factors. BED tends to run in families, which suggests the potential for genetics to play a role, however it may therefore also be a learned behaviour from observed family members. Additionally, there is a link between depression and BED and depression can be a trigger for binge eating. This is colloquially known as ‘comfort eating’. Emotional regulation problems, body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem may also play a role. Experiencing trauma, such as sexual abuse, can increase the risk of developing BED.

Treating BED

There are several successful treatment options for BED. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) may be advised which is a therapy where the psychologist and the patient look at the dysfunctional thinking pattern and cognitive distortions that may occur before, during and after binge eating episodes. The aim is to help individuals understand these thoughts and how they affect behaviours. Interpersonal psychotherapy may also be used and this therapy reviews relationships with others, such as family members or peers, and review the way that they see themselves. Additionally, dialectical behaviour therapy might be used to work with the patient to identify strategies to cope with feelings of stress, while also looking to regulate emotions. Medications may be offered alongside talking therapy to target some of the emotional symptoms, such as depression or anxiety.

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