Name-calling Has Its Place: BED is Now Named as a Distinct Eating Disorder. So what’s in it for you?

What’s in a name?

Perhaps it sounds like an existential question, but if it doesn’t have a name, does it even exist? Labeling Binge Eating Disorder (BED) what it is—a painful struggle living with frequent overeating large amounts of food—makes real the impact on mood, thoughts, energy level, physical wellbeing and hopelessness, to name a few. 
Living with Binge Eating Disorder when it was not yet recognized as a diagnosis, you might not have felt sick enough or eligible to be treated, because it just wasn’t taken seriously enough by those around you. 

Being added as a condition all its own validates this not-uncommon eating disorder whose sufferers live with their secret relationship with food, silently and ashamed.

Like adulterers you may sneak around family members and friends consuming large quantities of food—rarely lean protein or vegetables, I’ll add—but typically those foods and nutrients deemed forbidden. Yes, adulterers, as you carry on a relationship you may fail to acknowledge, cheating only yourself.

You eat quickly, masking the empty packages for fear of the response. “Who finished the cookies?” you dread hearing. You may eat salads or nothing at all in the workplace or with others, then stop at the convenience store or the fast food drive in and eat more than a day’s worth of calories, before even getting home. And then perhaps eat dinner as if nothing had ever happened. There may be a short-lived thrill preceding the binge, but a lingering guilt-filled regret to follow.

I should be mindfully eating? 

Binge eaters rarely taste their food, nor do they enjoy it mindfully—from the accounts of my patients over the past 26 years. They eat cakes and cookies and ice cream, but they don’t consume them with permission—their own permission, that is. They may be quite unaware of what and how much they have eaten. And although there are exceptions, they rarely truly enjoy what they are binging on—although the experience may be quite pleasurable—in the short-term. Friday’s new patient diagnosed with BED would never come in for a follow up—that much was certain—if I dared to suggest he’d have to give up his nightly, longed for ritual of binge eating. Yes, making change takes time—and hard work.

Why oh why do I do this?

You may find yourself eating impulsively, wondering why, even though you know better, you can’t follow through with your intended control over food. 

Let’s start with one basic fact. You are not stupid. It is not for lack of knowledge that you maintain your binge eating pattern, but likely because it meets some needs.  It may temporarily numb you, a drug of choice for some, or may help manage your anxiety. Or it may be triggered by impulsivity, even greater in those who get too hungry and those who struggle with impulse control—like those with ADHD. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not endorsing binge eating to meet your needs. Rather, hopefully providing some insight so you can begin to move from the place you are stuck.

Binge eating typically, although not always, follows deprivation and food restriction. Ever notice that your binging is worse after dieting or fearing you will be without food? 

Thoughts like “I’ve already blown it so I may as well keep going”, what I call the what the heck effect, adds flames to the fire, contributing to continued overeating. Or you may preplan a binge—a very much-controlled binge, counter to the uncontrolled binges often described.

“What’s your point?”

I just sent a family member a link to a popular press article about a parallel situation- trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling) is also now added to the new DSM-5, the mental health manual of diagnoses. In response to the link, the trich sufferer responded, “So what’s your point?” So let me clarify for all. The point is, if you are described in these posts, then you deserve to have your condition acknowledged and treated. And that includes getting support from a mental health professional (one who’s trained in CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). And for BED sufferers, adding a Registered Dietitian who specializes in eating disorders is essential as well.
It takes time to shift your eating pattern and your thoughts, and to find alternative ways to manage things that cause distress, but recovery is possible. 

How do you change and move from being a binge eater? Five areas tend to need to be addressed. You’ll need to:

  1. Eat enough calories throughout the day. Guidance from an RD can be quite helpful here.
  2. Watch your eating pattern to avoid long periods without eating. Excessive hunger leads to excessive intake. Think about a pendulum; swinging to one extreme results in an equal swing in the opposite direction. We are looking to be swinging in a much more narrow range!
  3. Move toward mindful eating. Start by separating eating from distractions, such as TV, reading, computer, driving, phone use. Keep food in the kitchen or dining room only. And try to use your senses when eating. Yes, you deserve to experience and taste what you eat.
  4. Once you are preventing excessive hunger and mindfully eating, it’s time to reintroduce foods you view as ‘forbidden’. Remember that if you are listening to your hunger and eating when you need the fuel, you are no worse off for choosing something you really enjoy eating—be it ice cream or chocolate chip cookies. But keep in mind that while you’re working on liberalizing your ‘forbidden’ foods, work on…
  5. Distinguishing physical hunger from emotional eating triggers, such as stress, reward, depression, anxiety, the need for self-punishment.

Now that it is a recognized condition, it’s my hope that MDs will no longer direct their overweight patients for lap band or gastric bypass surgery, never inquiring about or addressing the underlying problem behaviors. Perhaps the medical community will also begin to distinguish those who are overweight yet healthy—yes, they do co-exist—from those that are struggling with their thoughts and behaviors.

What I like most about this new diagnosis it that it puts the focus on your behavior, not your body weight. Now let’s hope that the medical community begins to ask the questions to open discussion about eating behaviors so that you and others can get the support and direction you need to recover.

Check out these older posts on binge eating and related themes:

Many more posts on the subject can be found by clicking on the relevant labels on the right of the blog.
I'd love to hear from you! Thanks for reading.

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