What is Binge Eating?
Binge eating, also known as Binge Eating Disorder (BED), is a mental health condition characterised by recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food while feeling a lack of control. These episodes are typically marked by distress and occur without the compensatory behaviours seen in other eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa (purging or excessive exercise).
BED is one of the most common of all eating disorders, estimated at impacting 2-3% of the population. Like all eating disorders, it is characterised by shame and secrecy, often taking place in isolation.
Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating
Binge eating involves feeling out of control with food. Consuming far more that you actually need or want to eat. Feeling powerless over food. It is also characterised by being obsessed with food and weight. It has a lot of similarities to addiction – wanting to stop, knowing about the harmful consequences, making a resolve to not do it again, and then being powerless to stop.
The process is painful and loaded with guilt and shame. However, complete recovery is possible, but the process requires a commitment to the process and awareness of the obstacles and common pitfalls.
Here are the 7 common mistakes that can happen on the path to binge eating disorder recovery:
- Seeing Food in Black and White Terms:
Categorising food as either “good” or “bad” assigns moral value to what we eat, reinforcing harmful dieting messages detrimental to eating disorder recovery. Instead, strive to view food as neutral, devoid of moral judgement. Recognize it as a source of nourishment and steer away from dichotomous labelling. This entails incorporating all food groups into your daily meals.
- Not Eating Enough:
While it may seem obvious, addressing inadequate food intake is essential. Often, individuals transitioning from diets, restrictions, and binge eating have lost touch with what constitutes a normal amount of food. Many are significantly under-eating, which can inadvertently trigger binge episodes. If you’re grappling with determining the right amount to eat, seeking professional guidance from a dietitian or nutritionist at the outset of your recovery journey can offer an objective perspective and tangible goals.
- Seeing Food as a Reward:
Ascribing excessive power to food as a reward can impede progress. The goal of recovery is to reassign this power, recognizing food as primarily a source of physical nourishment. Equally important is identifying the emotional needs that food once fulfilled and finding alternative ways to meet them. These needs might include connection, comfort, fun, pleasure, and enjoyment. Ask yourself how else you could satisfy these needs, and work on redirecting the role of binge eating.
- Expecting an Overnight Recovery:
One of the most significant hindrances to recovery is expecting too much progress too quickly and becoming disheartened when recovery doesn’t unfold as rapidly as anticipated. It’s crucial to relieve yourself of unrealistic expectations and the accompanying pressure. Recognize that binge eating may have persisted for some time, and, likewise, recovery necessitates time to integrate into your life. Put aside self-criticism and cultivate self-compassion as one of your primary goals. Be gentle with yourself, understand that you may falter at times, and practice self-forgiveness consistently. True healing thrives on a foundation of compassion and acceptance. On the contrary, shame and self-aggression undermine recovery efforts, often leading to further binge eating as a coping mechanism for the emotional pain we inflict upon ourselves.
- Going It Alone:
One of the most common mistakes in Binge Eating Disorder (BED) recovery is attempting to navigate it in isolation, without seeking support. Eating disorders thrive in an environment of shame, isolation, and secrecy. The antidote to this is connection, transparency, and reaching out for help. This support may involve others on the path to recovery or unrelated individuals and activities.
- Neglecting to Build a Life Beyond the Eating Disorder:
BED often confines your world, causing thoughts and activities to revolve around food and weight. An essential recovery goal is to create a life and identity wholly unrelated to the eating disorder. This involves cultivating hobbies unrelated to weight loss or food, engaging with friends, trying new experiences, indulging in pleasurable activities, and pursuing interests previously neglected due to the overwhelming focus on the eating disorder. The sooner you embark on crafting a new life detached from food and weight, the sooner you’ll notice the obsession with food and weight dissipate.
- Comparing and Despairing Trap:
Falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others, particularly in terms of appearance, or getting caught up in social media comparisons can be detrimental. Equally harmful is comparing your recovery journey to others’. Believing that others are further along or progressing faster can lead to despair and self-sabotage. The key is to stay in your lane and assess your progress from your starting point. Each recovery journey is distinct.
Dealing with Relapses
It’s vital to understand that relapses can occur and that they are a part of the recovery process. Expect them, but more importantly, know how to handle them effectively. Here’s a strategy to employ when faced with a relapse:
- Begin again.
- Avoid dieting or restricting food intake.
- Practise radical acceptance, acknowledging the situation without overanalyzing, minimising, or catastrophizing. Understand that relapses are a normal part of the process; don’t give them additional power by dwelling on them.
- As soon as you are able, have your next meal and prioritise its nutritional value.
- Speak to yourself with kindness, as you would to a child learning something new.
- Connect with someone and share what happened. There is immense power in sharing our authentic, vulnerable selves with others, and doing so disempowers the disorder.
Remember, relapses are part of the recovery process. What matters most is how you respond to them. Embrace self-compassion, accept setbacks, and reach out for support when needed.
If you are starting out on your recovery journey or needing more support, reach out for eating disorder therapy.