What is Binge Eating Disorder (and how to start managing it!)
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is one of the least known, yet most common forms of eating issues, affecting about 3,5% of women and 2% of men. Although difficult to recognise at first, BED can seriously affect our mental and physical health. Not everything is lost though. In this article we’ve gathered some telltale signs of BED as well as actionable tips to start healing from it and increase your overall body positivity!
What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder that is not as well known by people compared to Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa, even though it is a common eating disorder faced by many people. People with BED feel compelled to eat a large quantity of food over a short period, making them feel uncomfortably full. Often, the food is eaten quickly. It can feel as though you are out of control where it is hard to stop, and many have described feeling disconnected from reality during the binge. The binge is often planned in advance. These binge episodes are usually done in secret. They can lead to people feeling ashamed, guilty, disgusted with themselves and distressed about having binged. Unlike Bulimia Nervosa, binges are not followed by compensatory behaviours, such as vomiting. However, individuals may restrict their food intake between binges. BED can often contribute to weight gain, but this is not always the case.
BED can affect anyone. However, BED is less common in younger people and is more likely to affect older adults, often starting from the late teens or early 20s. They can lead to other eating disorders, such as Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa.
Tips for Healing from Binge Eating Disorder
Eat regularly to avoid strong feelings of physical hunger and psychological cravings, which can otherwise trigger binges. Try to work towards having three meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner), and have a mid-morning snack, mid-afternoon snack and possibly an evening snack after dinner. Try not to go 3-4 hours or more without eating.
Plan your meals in advance. This can help you stick to regular eating and can help you feel more in control.
Don’t avoid certain foods. This only leads to us craving such foods more, and if we were to eat such food again, we’re more likely to binge on them.
Eat mindfully. A great way to gradually heal from binge eating disorder is to slow down your eating. Place your cutlery down after each mouthful. Pay close attention to the details of eating. For example, notice the different colours on your plate, pay attention to what the food smells like, notice what the food feels like in your mouth as you chew. Try to eat without other distractions, e.g. using your phone and watching television.
Serve up what you intend to eat on your plate. Put other food in containers out of sight before you start your meal. For example, after making a sandwich, put the bread and other ingredients back. If you think you would like some more, wait until you have finished eating and pause to help you decide if you want some more. Only then, serve out what you want, once again putting everything away afterwards.
Store all your food in one place (usually the kitchen).
Identify the triggers of your binges, e.g. time, place, mood/feelings, thoughts, circumstances, people. Then generate ideas for addressing these to help you feel more in control. For example, distraction (call a friend, complete housework, go for a walk), try to move away from the kitchen/where food is kept, have a bath, seek company.
If you do have a binge, let go of harsh self-criticism. This only makes you feel bad and crushes your motivation and enthusiasm to get back on track. See what you can learn from the binge, i.e. What triggered it? How did you cope? What could you do differently next time? Then draw a line under this episode as soon as you can and focus your energy on getting back on track.
Tips for Greater Body Positivity
Do you hold a negative body image? Here are some ways to find out:
Are you spending lots of time attending to your weight and shape? For example, are you:
Thinking about it lots and being hard on yourself because you are wishing you were thinner/more toned etc
Talking about it lots?
Looking in the mirror lots?
Looking at individuals on social media who have your ideal body size and shape
Weighing yourself lots?
Spending time (and money!) finding ways to improve your weight and shape?
Seeking reassurance from others?
If so, reflect on the costs of this on your feelings, your day-to-day activities and on your bank balance! Perhaps it is time to change how you view your body and your relationship with it to develop a more positive body image. Here are some tips for developing a more positive body image:
Re-evaluate your life!
Most people base their sense of self-worth on various areas of their lives, e.g. work, relationships, hobbies, school, achievements. However, some people can base much of their self-worth on their weight and shape, and other interests gradually wane. Whether you are struggling with binge eating disorder or not, there can be various costs attached to this. This leads people to believe that they are only of worth if they are thin/toned and leads to lots of pressure being placed on oneself to control body weight and shape. If this area of life is problematic, then this causes immense dissatisfaction. If this is the case for you, re-evaluate what you base your self-worth upon. Try broadening other areas of your life that are valuable to you and commit more time and energy to these other areas.
Re-Calibrate your Mirror Use
Time in the mirror:
Notice how long you spend looking at yourself in the mirror. If you spend prolonged periods looking at yourself in the mirror, it only keeps you more focused on your body. Try to reduce this. Conversely, if you avoid looking at yourself in the mirror as much as possible, try to gradually confront this fear.
Mind tricks: Be aware of the tricks our minds play on us. For example, suppose we are worried about being “fat”. In that case, we’re more likely to find areas of our bodies that are “fat” and we’re dissatisfied with. It’s similar to when we, say, buy a red car. We suddenly find that the roads are full of red cars. It is not that there are suddenly many more red cars on the road, but simply we’re more aware of red cars in our minds and, therefore, notice red cars more.
Another phenomenon that is known to exist is that when we focus on the aspects of our bodies we dislike, and we have negative thoughts about our size and shape, research shows this can actually distort what we see when we look at ourselves, we can appear bigger in our minds.
Mirror Use Exercise:
To combat the above, try this exercise where you look at yourself in a full-length mirror. Broaden your focus and look at your whole body rather than just focus on the areas you do not like. Then move from the top of your head and down to your feet whilst describing your body and its functions. If negative judgments enter your mind, just acknowledge this and move your attention back to simply describing your body and its functions. Attend to your favourite areas of your body if you have a favourite one, or attend to the body areas you are not as dissatisfied with. This exercise, if repeated, can lead to a gradual decline in distress levels.
If you are checking your body lots by, for example, weighing yourself, measuring yourself, seeing if your smaller clothes fit and comparing your body to others, begin by monitoring how often you do this and how long for. Then ask yourself, is this helpful? How is this making me feel? Keep the following in mind:
Bodies don’t change within a short space of time, so there is no need to check ourselves frequently, and it is not accurate to say to ourselves “I’ve got bigger” within a short period between checking
Our memories of our body shape and size are unreliable.
All people have fat on their bodies, even some of the thinnest people we see on social media. When we all sit down, it is entirely normal for our thighs to appear larger and not have a flat tummy, don’t be fooled by the images you see on social media!
Reduce your social media use or have a cull of certain people you follow who could negatively affect you and how you feel about your own body. Keep in mind that the celebs that we see do not have normal lives like us! Be aware that striving for their weight and size comes at high costs. It takes up a lot of time, energy (and often money!). The efforts needed to reach their body size and shape takes time away from other valued areas. The under-eating, which is often involved, leads to negative physical and emotional consequences, such as tiredness, irritability and poor concentration- to name just a few. It is common knowledge that what we see on social media is not an accurate reflection of how people actually look. Also, be aware that celebs often have personal trainers and dieticians to help them along the way. Ask yourself, the amount of time and energy you’re putting into your body weight and shape, is it worth it?
Watch Your Self-Talk
We can have a tendency to say negative things to ourselves, this happens frequently to people with binge eating disorder. With the negative things you say to yourself, and how often you say these things to yourself, how helpful is this? Some people may think it is important to be self-critical as it pushes them harder to work towards their ideal body shape. Is this really true? Do you find the way you speak to yourself really encouraging and makes you enthusiastic about working on your body shape? Often, the frequency of our self-critical thoughts and how extreme they are only has the opposite effect. It has a significant detrimental impact on how we feel.
To tackle this, monitor how you talk to yourself about your appearance, particularly when you feel particularly low, anxious, frustrated and guilty. What thoughts are running through your mind? Then ask yourself:
· How helpful are these thoughts?
· What are the costs of me thinking this way?
· Am I being overly critical? Can I be more self-compassionate?
· What is the evidence for my negative thoughts?
· What is the evidence against my negative thoughts?
· What’s another way of looking at this situation?
· Would I say these things to a friend?
· If I told a friend I was thinking this way, what would they say to me?
· Am I placing too much pressure upon myself?
· Am I thinking in all or nothing ways? i.e. I either have to eat really healthily, or I’m a failure
· Am I thinking of the worst-case scenario?
· Am I focussing on the negatives and filtering out the positives?
· Am I labelling myself unfairly, e.g. I’m fat, lazy, I’m disgusting?
Hopefully, becoming more aware of your negative self-talk and questioning it with the above questions will help you develop more balanced and realistic thoughts. This will, in turn, improve how you feel and lead to more helpful behaviours.
We spend far too long in life, trying to control things that are not entirely within our control. Our weight and shape are among them. We certainly have a degree of control over this. It is OK to take this control where we have it to manage one’s shape and weight if this is done in a healthy (and non-extreme!) way. However, notice how much you’re struggling with the aspects of your weight and shape that are not within your control. Perhaps you are wishing for your natural body shape to be different and going to extreme efforts to try to lose weight. This can make us feel highly distressed and unsatisfied in life. Reflect upon the pros and cons of continuing with this struggle versus the pros and cons of accepting the aspects that are not within your control. Think about what life would look like if you worried less about your appearance. Try acknowledging the positive aspects of your body. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of how your body looks, try to become more aware of what a great job your body does for you. We can often take this for granted.