BED, or Binge-Eating Disorder (also known as “uncontrolled eating disorder”), falls
under the umbrella of the eating disorders called Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED).
It is not easy to define or identify, partly because the scientific community still needs to agree on its diagnosis criteria fully.
How does it manifest, and how to intervene?
What is BED?
Binge-eating disorder is an insidious eating disorder that very often hides behind a simple craving or comfort. According to experts, it is characterized by binge eating without compensatory behaviors.
Usually, the first signs of the onset of this disorder occur in late adolescence. However, in rarer cases, the first bulimic episodes are experienced as early as childhood or adulthood.
It is common for this disorder to arise without the patient being fully aware of it, generally during particularly stressful times or especially challenging days, when one may seek relief by eating cookies or crackers or indulging in tasty foods such as chocolate or chips. In reality, these are episodes of uncontrolled eating, and they mostly take place at times of:
- Peak nervousness;
- Emotional dissatisfaction;
- Professional dissatisfaction.
Under these circumstances, an individual is seeking out gratification through food. This process is closely connected to their psychophysical condition and is similar to the mechanisms behind:
- Drinking alcohol;
- Compulsive shopping.
Symptoms can manifest daily. The following factors may also exacerbate the issue:
- Feelings caused by the pandemic.
Food can be a momentary antidote to these emotions, and high-calorie foods (sweet or salty alike) can feel like a “medication.”
A person with BED may create rituals and a recurring routine for themself. Some may experience episodes only in the afternoon (upon returning home), others late in the evening in front of the TV, or, often, as numerous, mid-morning, small, and “innocent” breaks.
Many patients can find it difficult to confess their behavior – only professionals with many years of experience can point it out based on a detailed case history focusing on the patient’s emotions.
The influence of food on brain functions
Because they are very tasty, particularly sweet or salty foods increase dopamine. This causes a feeling of satisfaction, reinforcing the habit of turning to these foods.
Specialists are able to identify BED when a patient experiences being unable to stop eating. Other characteristics that help define the problematic nature of these episodes are, for example, increased speed of food intake in the absence of a feeling of hunger and eating meals secretly and alone. It is common for these episodes to be followed by feelings of guilt.
However, people may make exceptions and exaggerate with food occasionally. How can anyone tell these instances apart from an eating disorder?
Specialists consider the frequency of these episodes: They should be a cause for concern if they occur twice a week for at least six months.
Therefore, keeping a food diary is advised, as this will allow specialists and dietitians to track the development of the episodes.
How to deal with BED with the help of a specialist
It is difficult for patients to accept diagnoses such as being overweight or having this disorder.
Some patients may hide their behaviors from a medical professional they are not familiar with; Those who are aware of them may also be ashamed of them.
Encouraging someone to open up about it and helping them develop the appropriate treatment requires great skill. The cure cannot solely consist of a diet, as the bigger picture is much more complex.
For this reason, fostering a positive relationship between physician and patient is essential: The doctor must empathize with the individual who might experience difficulties losing weight.
One of the potential approaches is BED therapy: This is not a diet but rather a course in which a specialist helps a patient reframe their relationship with food and gain control over the emotional states that lead to a loss of control.
This type of eating disorder improves gradually: One goes from accepting the comforting role of food in moments of distress and agitation to learning how to make compromises to eventually being able to reduce compulsive eating episodes significantly.
The following steps remove the illusion that happiness and personal success can only be achieved with a slim body and a teenager’s weight. Finally, it is important to encourage the patient to increase physical activity and to make it a daily habit. This can help reduce anxiety and improve depressive states.
Lastly, the wrong approach may worsen the situation and make the disorder chronic, as the patient may experience a long series of failures, which will increase depression and lead them to resort to food as a solution to the pain caused by a streak of defeats.