On average, we spend a total of 32,098 hours eating and drinking in our entire lifetime . Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy, is released in substantial amounts after every meal. However, just as the saying goes, “too much of a good thing is bad.”
Binge eating disorder (BED) is almost always associated with poor physical and mental outcomes in those affected.
That said, like any other eating disorder, BED doesn’t have to be a permanent struggle. Up to 50% of people with BED make a full recovery with lifestyle changes alone or in combination with pharmacological treatments . Therefore, it’s safe to say that BED isn’t a life sentence but rather a treatable condition with proper management strategies.
Lifestyle Treatments For Binge Eating Disorder
Think of preparing for a game of soccer. To perform well, you’d need to spend time learning about your strengths and weaknesses. It would help if you also looked into every aspect of the game to increase your chances of winning.
Similarly, knowing more about yourself and your BED habits will help you tackle your way out effectively.
That’s how the implementation of lifestyle changes works to curb the urge to eat uncontrollably. It’s the first-line treatment recommendation for BED and also the most effective one. Lifestyle treatments help you learn about your eating disorders and know yourself better along the way.
1. Learning Your Binge Eating Patterns
Though the causes of BED are indefinite and unclear, it’s established that people affected with BED persist with their eating habits even in the absence of hunger. Henceforth, identifying the triggers of your eating pattern plays a crucial role in managing BED and eventually breaking free of it.
Here are some questions you could reflect on:
- What is the usual time frame of your binge-eating episodes?
- Is there a link between your mood status and eating habits?
- What aggravates or makes you binge eat more often?
- Has anything helped you to cut down on the urge to binge eat?
- What kind of foods do you usually binge eat?
After reflecting on these prompts, you may notice a pattern in your binge eating habits. For example, if you find yourself mostly binge-eating in the evening after work, try to keep yourself occupied during this time.
You can involve yourself in activities such as jogging, reading a book, or even going for a drive. Alternatively, you can also have someone trustable with you during this time to hold you accountable for your actions.
Discovering and understanding your eating patterns can tremendously help in resisting the urge to eat in large amounts.
Having said that, anticipate relapses in the process of managing BED because it’s pretty normal. Any long-term pattern takes time to break, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you learn from them and continually enhance your management strategies.
2. Keeping Record Of Your Meals
Often, we spend too much time thinking of calories and weight trends while dismissing other vital bits of foods like their nutritional values.
Journalling or keeping a food diary is an excellent way to keep track of your food intake. Recording how you feel before, during, and after a meal helps you pinpoint the correlation between the food you eat and the impact it has on your day-to-day life.
Under-eating is just as bad as over-eating. The binge/starve cycle is a common phenomenon amongst those with BED. It describes a vicious cycle consisting of eating large amounts of food (binging) for a time and then forcefully avoiding eating for the next (starving). While this may sound like an easy way to lose weight, it’s unsafe and not recommended as it frequently results in relapses, immense feelings of guilt, and emotional deprivation .
Keeping a record of what you consume daily gives you an overall picture of your diet and ensures you don’t slip into the binge/starve cycle. Routine journaling also trains you to be more mindful of eating and helps you control your food choices.
3. Psychological Treatments
In 2016, a population-based survey revealed that suicide ideation or suicidal thoughts are markedly higher in people with BED compared to other eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa . However, only 11.4% of the survey participants were receiving treatments to address their eating and weight issues.
Seeking assistance in terms of psychological therapy from certified professionals provides an outlet for you to vent out your emotions. On top of that, having someone to talk to during difficult times will help you navigate your journey of recovery from BED better.
Here is some recommended psychotherapy for BED:
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)
- Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)
- Therapist-led cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Transdiagnostic enhanced cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT-E)
Pharmacological Treatment For Binge Eating Disorder
Considering that the discovery of BED in itself is rather new, the current medication options available in the market are limited. Although we’ve made substantial progress, the evidence is still limited, and recommendations are rather vague.
The best treatment options for binge-eating disorder are unclear, therefore, medication management is usually a matter of “trial and error”.
In 2016, a systematic review by Annals of Internal Medicine independently reviewed the outcomes of 34 trials to obtain evidence of effective therapies for adults with BED. The reviewers concluded that cognitive-behavioral therapy, lisdexamfetamine (an ADHD medication), and second-generation antidepressants significantly decreased binge-eating frequencies and increased binge-eating abstinence .
Although these medications help in the management of BED, it’s worth noting that they come with limitations and side effects too.
Lisdexamfetamine and some antidepressants should be avoided during pregnancy or breastfeeding as there’s insufficient information on its safety in this population .
Moreover, these medications may also have dire consequences from drug-drug or drug-food interactions. Therefore, it’s recommended for you to thoroughly discuss the benefits and risks of BED medications with your healthcare providers before initiating the treatment.
Engaging In A Community
No man is an island.
In this digital age, there’s a community forum or platform for almost anything under the sun. Hence, find a community for eating disorders to share or discuss your unique journey in treating BED. You can also learn from others or, better yet, inspire those battling similar struggles.
Apart from that, you can also make full use of helplines during your periods of low. Having a pair of listening ears may give you a feeling of comfort and help you overcome negativity. Finally, informational websites or self-help books can keep you in check on current developments in the science of binge eating or provide tips to overcome the urge to eat.
Here are a few helpful resources you may benefit from:
- National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Forum
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline
- The Butterfly Foundation
- Overcoming Binge Eating by Christopher Fairburn
Bottomline: Managing Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Taking the first step to stop binge eating always comes with the feeling of anxiety and uncertainty. But the first step is all it takes to move forward and break down your unhealthy eating habit.
Remember that lifestyle changes are the mainstay treatment of BED; even medications only work to their fullest potential when taken hand-in-hand with appropriate lifestyle changes.
Do not beat yourself up or starve yourself to “cure” BED. Take one step at a time, be consistent, and seek professional advice and guidance when you’re ready!
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
- Carcamo, U. (2020, October 8). Are you trapped in the binge-starve cycle? Hypnotherapy Directory. Retrieved August 19, 2022, from https://www.hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk/memberarticles/are-you-trapped-in-the-binge-starve-cycle
- Swanson, S. A., Crow, S. J., Le Grange, D., Swendsen, J., & Merikangas, K. R. (2011). Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in adolescents. Results from the national comorbidity survey replication adolescent supplement. Archives of general psychiatry, 68(7), 714–723. https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.22
- Brownley, K. A., Berkman, N. D., Peat, C. M., Lohr, K. N., Cullen, K. E., Bann, C. M., & Bulik, C. M. (2016). Binge-Eating Disorder in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of internal medicine, 165(6), 409–420. https://doi.org/10.7326/M15-2455