Nov
30
2010

How to Recover from Binge Eating and Compulsive Over-eating

We all eat too much from time to time. Let’s take Thanksgiving and holiday season for instance; the turkey, sides, all of those pies, the stress of preparing the party or seeing your family, and oh the sweet relief of that delicious pumpkin pie. Millions of Americans nationwide consider this a day where you are supposed to binge on food. Over-eating on Thanksgiving is as normal an accepted American tradition as baseball and apple pie! We even promote these types of bingeing behaviors with comedic television ads about taking antacids with you this year to your holiday celebrations- or giving them as gifts. In fact the holiday season sanctions bingeing as just part of the norm, expected behavior and quite frankly unavoidable.

So when does binge eating cross the line into disordered eating for an individual and what exactly does that mean? Angela Harmon Co-Founder of Woodleaf Eating Disorder Center in San Francisco, CA says the line into disordered eating is an important one to define: “now more than ever we are seeing education about binge eating disorder come to the forefront in literature and the media, sufferers are finally able to each out for the help they have needed for years.” In a culture that fixates itself on dieting and body perfection many binge eaters don’t know where to turn for support. “Many binge eating sufferers attempt to turn to diets for relief and this just perpetuates the viscous binging cycle. It is time we stop labeling “over-eating” as a lack of control or as a “choice” and identify it for the eating disorder that it truly is” says Harmon.

To understand binge eating more fully its helps to take a look at “normal” or “healthy” eating. In normal healthy eating patterns there is a natural ebb and flow in food intake. Sometimes we eat until we are full, sometimes we eat what we crave and from time to time we may eat too much or even too little. This variation in food intake is not a problem as long as a majority of the time we each in a balanced way. In healthy eating we do not obsess about food and instead listen to our natural body signals of hunger and fullness. While we may not follow these signals perfectly we generally eat when we are hungry and stop eating when we are full. Within the bounds of normal healthy eating Thanksgiving comes and we may over-eat with small regret or a stomach-ache but that day passes and life (and eating) go back to normal. For those who suffer from binge eating disorder how-ever over-eating takes on an entirely different meaning and experience.

While binge eating disorder is a relatively recently recognized eating disorder (often referred to as compulsive over-eating)¬† what sets it apart from normal eating patterns is the distress and lack of control one feels regarding bingeing. In essence bingeing and compulsive over-eating becomes disruptive to a persons life. Full and hungry signals become mixed or not detectable at all and a sufferer may feel “hungry” all of the time. Bingeing on salty or sugary food may also set the body up for cravings and binges leads to more binges. Eventually the sufferer begins to feel out of control of the binges all together and a feeling of hopelessness can set in.

Binge eating disorder is thought to be one of the most common typed of eating disorders affecting millions of Americans. While similar to Bulimia Nervosa those who suffer from it do not purge (i.e. vomiting, laxative, excessive exercise, etc) their bodies of the food they consume during a binge episode. Other symptoms of binge eating disorder include the following:

Binge Eating Disorder

Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode is characterized by: 1. Eating a larger amount of food than normal during a short period of time
(within any two hour period)2. Lack of control over eating during the binge episode (i.e. the feelingthat one cannot stop eating).

Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:

1. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
2. Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
3. Eating much more rapidly than normal
4. Eating alone because you are embarrassed by how much you’re eating
5. Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating

Marked distress regarding binge eating is present
Binge eating occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for six months
The binge eating is not associated with the regular use of inappropriate
compensatory behavior (i.e. purging, excessive exercise, etc.) and does not
occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

If you are one of the millions of American’s estimated to suffer from Binge Eating Disorder you are not alone. Harmon reports seeing an increase in clients seeking binge eating disorder treatment at Woodleaf Eating Disorder center in San Francisco, California: “As more information and education come to light about this painful disorder sufferers are reaching our for help. It is wonderful to see the relief clients feel when they realize they are not crazy or defective but in fact have a treatable eating disorder.” Growing evidence in psychological research is showing that binge eating disorder can be just life impairing as anorexia and bulimia. The good news is that recovery from binge eating disorder is possible and its treatment can often be covered by insurance. Getting support and treatment for binge eating is of particular importance because of the isolation it brings. Breaking out of this isolation and getting support from others is key to recovery.

Our culture continually sends the message that all you have to do is start the latest diet fad in order to reach your weight goals. Binge eating disorder does not work that way and research has shown diets can actually contribute to the problem. Dietician Molly Escrow from the Woodleaf Center Binge Eating program speaks to the issue of diets directly: “the problem with diets and binge eating is that the restriction and deprivation inherent in diets usually causes the binges to increase. The pathway to healing is to not only address the underlying issues prompting the binge episodes but to receive sound nutritional counseling to support and re-learn how to eat in a healthy way.” ¬†While recovery from Binge Eating Disorder takes time Escrow reports it is 100% possible. “I have seen clients fully recovery from this disorder after decades of bingeing, diets, bingeing. I have seen them change their relationship with food and themselves and it is an amazing process to be a part of.” For those who suffer from binge eating disorder this is very, very good news. With new research and education the options for recovery are increasing every day.

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