Many struggling dieters actually suffer from binge eating disorder, and could manage their condition—and lose weight—with the help of a licensed counselor. Eating disorders and overeating are one of the subtler addictions that very few people tend to talk about.
The Numbers Are Overwhelming.
One out of every 35 adults suffer from binge eating disorder, almost twice the combined rate for anorexia and bulimia. It is characterized by repeated episodes of eating large quantities of food quickly and to the point of discomfort; a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; and guilt following the binge, but without any consistent purging behavior. Up to 40 percent of people trying to lose weight suffer from Binge Eating Disorder, and up to 70 percent of patients with Binge Eating Disorder are medically obese.
The good news is that Binge Eating Disorder is highly treatable, particularly with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy: Nearly 80 percent of patients abstain from bingeing after 20 sessions. And, unlike most calorie-restricting diets, the success of cognitive behavioral therapy holds for many patients over time.
However, a 2013 study in Biological Psychiatry found that less than half of lifetime bingers receive treatment. There are millions of overweight Americans who could find actual sustainable help with their eating issues – and not berate themselves for a lack of “willpower” – if more people could simply identify the disorder and find the correct counselor for treatment.
Binge Eating Addiction Does Not Discriminate.
Binge eating addiction is an equal opportunity disorder, affecting men, women, young, old, and all races. However, the Netflix eating disorder film To the Bone is a microcosm of the short shrift binge eating is given in popular culture. The movie focuses on a waifish, big-eyed anorexic staying in a residential treatment home, zooming in to focus on one patient with a feeding tube and a bulimic.
The presence of binge eating is hardly acknowledged in the film; one overweight character, Kendra, suffers from it, but she has an unexplained jar of peanut butter throughout, as her main companion. At one point, Kendra tries to join a conversation with fellow patients but a rude housemate shuts her down with “Sorry: This conversation is for rexies only.”
Even though in real life the bingers far outnumber anorexics, popular culture seems far more fascinated by the idea of wasting away.
The Mental Disorder Was Only Recently Established in 2013.
Part of the issue is binge eating addiction’s relative newness on the mental-health scene: It was only recognized as a formal diagnosis by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) in 2013.
Somebody who really should be in therapy goes to an individual therapist and gets frustrated, similar to drug addiction. Oftentimes, patients will give up and go back to dieting. It’s almost like trying to treat cancer with vitamins. By having a commitment to cognitive therapy is of paramount importance to an individual’s successful treatment.
Successful treatment of overeating addiction is not always synonymous with dramatic weight loss, but eliminating the habit of consuming thousands of calories at a time on a regular basis typically results in modest weight loss. And even if it doesn’t, it’s still a major health improvement to cut back on the types of foods people typically binge on (like pizza or meaty breakfast sandwiches or ice cream), the sodium, fat, and sugar of which are hard on the body.
When you eat big volumes of food, particularly foods that are highly processed, which is what most people binge on, it causes a lot of stress on your body. The inflammation in your body affects everything from your cardiac status to your brain to your bones and your joints. It eventually compounds any health risk.
How Therapists Can Help.
If you have difficulty with overeating, you may wonder whether Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you stop your problem behaviors and food addiction. This example puts you in the place of a fictitious person who has characteristics and circumstances often seen in people who come for treatment for food addiction. This can show you what happens in CBT and how it can help people stop overeating.
Overeating and Binge Eating Behaviors.
You are a binge eater who binges on candy, cookies, and chocolate several times a day. Your overeating started in childhood when you would eat candy in secret at night. You describe your binges as emotional eating because you eat when you felt upset.
You do everything you can to prevent weight gain, including skipping regular meals, exercising for hours, using laxatives to “clear yourself out,” and occasionally, making yourself vomit. Your family doctor became concerned that you were developing problems with incontinence from laxative overuse, and referred you to CBT to help you stop overeating.
Overeating Due to Emotional Reasoning.
Your cognitive-behavioral therapist guides you in recording the thoughts and feelings you experience before, during and after bingeing on sweet food. By analyzing the thoughts and feelings you have around food, you and your therapist come to understand that you have become addicted to food because of a type of faulty thinking called emotional reasoning.
As your weight has increased, your self-esteem has worsened. Many timesper day, you would interpret small chance occurrences as reasons to feel bad about yourself. Once you start keeping track of your thought processes, you realize how often this is happening.
For example, if someone pushed in front of you in line, you would feel that this must mean you are a worthless person, and you would immediately buy a bar to chocolate to eat and make yourself feel better. One day, a colleague didn’t respond when you said “Good morning,” and you reasoned this was because your colleague disliked you. At your first opportunity, you made an excuse to slip out and buy a pack of cookies and ate the whole pack. Your performance review at work was rated “good,” and you thought that anything less than “excellent” meant you were terrible at your job, so you spent the evening eating cake and ice cream.
Each time a minor disappointment of this sort occurred, which was almost daily, you would go to your secret stash of chocolate or head to the grocery store for a binge. In spite of this well-established pattern of behavior, although you wanted to stop overeating, you just did not know another way to handle your uncomfortable feelings of worthlessness.
Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Treat Food Addiction.
The CBT therapist explains to you that your binge eating is based on emotional reasoning and, although eating might make you feel temporarily comforted, would not help you feel better about yourself. In fact, overeating was having the opposite effect and was actually making you feel worse about yourself, which would then worsen your overeating.
Together, you plan a different approach to handling disappointment. With practice, you are able to interpret people’s responses more realistically, so you are not constantly feeling inadequate. You also practice methods for improving your self-esteem. As your self-esteem improves, you became more able to refrain from snacking and bingeing and began to eat more nutritious food.
If you believe that you are addicted to food and an overeating disorder, or you know someone who may need help, please contact Foundations Counseling today.