I love to address and discuss topics that inspire me, motivate me or allow me to think of things in a new light. When I decided to start an eating disorder recovery & support group I was baffled that majority of the emails I received were from men and women looking for help with binge eating. I personally have noticed and this is my opinion that binge eating is less frequently talked about or discussed. I believe that clinically and socially anorexia and bulimia are more focused on because of the more obvious physical presentation of the eating disorder however binge eating while physically not as apparent is equally as tragic, harmful and devestating. Statistics state that binge eating is the most common of all eating disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), binge eating disorder statistics are as follows: 1.2% of adults experience BED in any 12 month period. This means that 1.6% of women and 2.0% of men will experience BED in any one year. Binge eating is an uncontrollable urge or impulse to intake an overconsumption of food. I am writing this post and dedicating it to those who suffer from binge eating. I have heard many clients desperate to find a way to control their urges to binge. They feel helpless, lost, trapped in the vicious cycle of their binge eating and many feel hopeless. This blog post is not only to educate the clinicians but to give hope to those who feel they will never regain their control. Recovery from any eating disorder is possible.
I wish I could provide the ultimate answer on how to stop binging or how to overcome an eating disorder, while I may not have an answer my mission has been to educate people on the different resources, techniques and ways clinicians and someone struggling can help think about and fight eating disorders. I believe every person I work with or see functions and responds differently. What works for one person will not work for another. This is why I am constantly stressing for the clinicians to look at the bigger picture and think outside of what has been or is being conventionally done. Not to take away or say it doesn’t help but I believe we can go further, research more and find new answers or approaches to help those who may be suffering.
Binge eating has always been looked at as an emotional way of coping which it is. So clinicians tend to ask questions and dig deeper into the emotions, triggers and thoughts associated with or what happened before, during and after a binge. These are all great questions and things to examine and explore. Yes binge eating resonates with a great deal of the emotional turmoil going on inside, like I said in my previous post “Untangling The eating disorder web” binge eaters tend to take in to much never feeling fully gratified or satisfied. I am challenged however to look at Binge eating in multiple lights. I discovered this amazing book titled “Brain over Binge” written by Kathyrn Hansen. Reading this book my mind was blown away at her way of describing the binge cycle. While yes for many of our clients and for those who suffer from binge eating it is very emotionally driven however once in therapy and those emotions, issues and triggers are unveiled and identified what about the binge urge itself and the brain chemical component of the cycle? How do we tackle the brains urges and break the habit that has been conditioned and formed for so long. I can honestly say as a clinician like most of us do, we want to find the emotional answers, identify the triggers use distraction techniques coping skills, but what if those do not work for some of our clients? This book gives insight onto another way clinicians and someone who may be suffering can view themselves and their binge urges.
The author viewed her urges to binge as a survival instinct coming from a place of restriction or constant thoughts of not overeating. Scientifically if we look at someone who is starving themselves or restricting their food the brain and body kick into overdrive, needing food and nourishment to survive. This can lead to an insatiability and a need to eat more than one normally should to satisfy their body. This is where the guilt and shame come in and for some purging takes place .This cycle is triggered by the brain and body going into survival mode. She calls it the cycle of the divided brain. She splits up the behaviors assigning them as your conscious choices to restrict and diet, they are you and under your control. She describes the binge part the part with no control as “it” meaning the brains survival instinct. This revelation or way of viewing it was very powerful and in many ways made sense. The cycle diagramed below many clients have expressed to me gave them hope that they could regain control over their urges. They felt their binge eating was not a part of them or their identity which I feel for many can be freeing. They said it explained to them what their binge eating truly was and that they were not helpless to give in to it.
As clinician we tell our clients when urges to restrict, binge or purge come up to use coping skills or to distract until the urges go away and for many clients this is very powerful and works and has helped many to recover. I am speaking to those out there where distraction only heightens the urges or delays them until eventually they are given in to. The author has stated to sit with your urges allow them to come over you like a wave and allow the thought to come but DO NOT act on them. She likens it to a storm the waves will come and crash down on you but eventually the storm will settle. She breaks down her steps that helped her which I have listed below from her blog.
1. View urges to binge as neurological junk. (This means quit believing the urges signaled a real need – physical or emotional – and stopped assigning the urges any value or significance whatsoever. View them as automatic brain messages generated in the lower brain that deserved no attention.
2. Separated the highest human brain from the urges to binge.(This means realizing the urges are not you, but instead are generated in brain regions inferior to your true self. Your true self resides in your prefrontal cortex – Your highest human brain – and it gives you the ability to say “no” to binge eating. You have to know your urges are powerless to make you binge, and your true self has ultimate control over your voluntary actions.)
3. Stop reacting to your urges. (This means stop letting your urges to binge affect you emotionally and spiral you down to guilt and shame. Allow them to come and go without getting wrapped up in them. This will make the urges tolerable and eventually easier to resist.)
4. Stop acting on your urges. ( You don’t have to substitute any other behavior or emotionally satisfying activity for binge eating. I only had to refrain from binge eating.)
5. Get excited. (This is a bonus. By rejoicing in the success you do have even if its one urge or one day you speed along the brain changes that can change habits and behavior.)
The tools I listed above may only help some people and for others it may not but the beauty in educating people and increasing awareness is getting all different methods and inspiration out there. Every human being is different which is why what may work for one will not work for another. As clinicians we need to to understand and know the different ways to view eating disorders. If we look at them based on characteristics and treat them in one specific way we are doing a disservice to so many people who do not fall into “designated general categories” We as clinicians by doing more research by exploring new avenues give our clients to benefit from it. My message today is there is hope, there are alternatives, we just have to be open to explore all outlets and all forms of thinking because for those who suffer educating them and trying to understand who they are will help uncover the ways we can guide them on their path to recovery.
For more information about Binge Eating watch my discussion on the show Behind The Mask: Eating Disorders Unveiled.