Updated: Oct 17
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder(BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States.
There are an estimated 2.8 million Americans who suffer from binge eating disorder—three times the number of cases of anorexia and bulimia combined. It is estimated that 30 million people throughout the United States struggle with some type of eating disorder.
Unlike other eating disorders, it affects almost as many men as women and is seen across all ethnic groups. About 20 percent of people with BED are of normal weight, and about 65 percent are obese. However, BED was first recognized as an eating disorder in the DSM-5 (the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association), in 2013.
Fat shaming contributes to the lack of recognition of BED.
Most of us know what it’s like to overeat if we’ve ever had Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Or, eat at your local Golden Coral or Seafood Buffet. However, binge eating also involves severe emotional distress and a frequency of at least once weekly over a three-month period, although this can lessen during recovery.
Emotion—not hunger—drives the binge. The binge can last about two hours. Binge eaters feel out of control about how much and what they eat. Binge eaters eat food when they are not hungry, eat faster than normal, and pass the point of fullness. They often hide food and consume food alone due to shame and embarrassment. After a binge, they feel disgusted, depressed, and ashamed. One in three Americans is overweight, but not all have BED. Overeaters may feel uncomfortably full and slightly guilty after consumption, but they enjoy eating and feel content with the taste of the food.
BED is caused by a combination of factors, including cultural and media influences, biology, personality, and early childhood experiences. At its root, BED—similar to other addictions—is about using food to numb pain. Food becomes a drug, which is why binge eaters are compared to alcoholics and drug addicts more often than anorexics. Like other addicts, binge eaters can’t cope with emotional distress in a healthy way. This distress is a combination of current stress, previous childhood experience, and a learned dysfunctional emotional pattern of suppressing feelings.
The mechanism of using food to cope typically happens at a subconscious level. A binge eater doesn’t often come into my office and say, “I’m really hurt because my father neglected me so I binge.” Instead, they talk about wanting to lose weight and getting angry with themselves for not having willpower. I often ask, “What percentage of the day do you think about food?” For people with BED, that number is usually around 80 to 90 percent, which is a signal that there’s deeper pain to unearth.
Underneath this pain, there is often a deep-seated self-hatred. For instance, I coached a BED client who also struggled with childhood emotional neglect and she suffered from depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues. She was angry that she couldn’t overcome one-sided relationships. As a child, she was left to take care of her sibling while her mom worked and spent her off days with different men. She tends to get swallowed up in relationships and seek approval and validation by performing for love. As a young girl, she had always felt that she was a disappointment to her single mom, who often lost patience with her. She never felt that she fit in socially. She always felt like she was different, and something was missing from her life. Her relationship with her mom was nonexistent as she always found herself taking care of her after breakups due to her not being able to cope when rejected by men. The only communication was during those episodes of nurturing her mom back to health while listening to her make promises about finding a man to take care of them so they wouldn't have to worry about money. As a part of her wellness plan, we worked on her money blocks, seeing herself through a more compassionate lens, developing her social skills, dealing with her emotional eating, anxiety, and low mood, and finding purpose in her work. We discussed lessons that gave her clarity about emotional abandonment and childhood emotional neglect. Eventually, she grew to love herself, and this transformation helped her to stop neglecting her own needs and stop bingeing.
Understanding that BED has a biological component helps people reduce the heavy self-blame they often carry. BED tends to run in families, and research suggests that people with BED have a blunted response to dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter involved in many cognitive and behavioral effects, including the feelings of pleasure we get from food.
According to neurologist Jay Lombard, “Similar to drug addicts, binge behavior resembles addictive behavior linked to the reduced dopamine activity, which affects food intake amounts, satiety, and food choices.” This means that binge eaters may have difficulty with impulse control, including controlling food cravings; may experience increased pleasure with food; and may not receive correct messages of hunger and fullness from the brain.
Evidence indicates that BED is due to a combination of learned behaviors and biological factors, but as we know through the emerging field of epigenetics, our biology does not necessarily determine our destiny. BED can be overcome with psychological intervention, medication if necessary, and coaching from folks like me who have gone through the BED experience and are in Full remission supporting others.
Recovery from addiction begins with five simple steps...
The first step in healing is understanding that they are using food as a drug and making a commitment to change. With my clients, I introduce the concept of self-acceptance—compassionately accepting the situation for what it is without resistance or judgment. It’s the balance between acceptance and change—accepting that they have an addiction and making a commitment to change and recover.
Coping Mechanisms When they feel the urge to binge, we find other coping mechanisms to quell that urge. This might include mindful breathing, taking a walk, or even throwing rolled-up socks against the wall. Exercise is often a highly effective antidepressant. In my own experience, I use building my Avon business as a way to cope. I kept a box with 100 Avon brochures and supplies I would need to sign, stamp, package, and get ready to toss into my community or drop off at partners' businesses. This was a great way to stop urges, stay busy, and get my mind off whatever I was stressing about. Journaling writing and expressive art were also tools I used along with the HALT concept Asking myself if am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.
Mindfulness I encourage them to become mindful of their thoughts, which may have been buried by years of bingeing. So often, we do not notice the constant stream of negative thoughts going through our minds. Understanding how thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected is critical. For instance, “I hate my life” leads to feelings of sadness, which leads to bingeing. Changing thoughts creates behavioral change. Our inner world can dramatically shift our outer lives. I found reading Lousie Hay's You Can Heal Your Life as a great way to stop doubt and negative thinking.
Relationship with Food I am a trauma-informed nutritionist, wellness behavioral health coach, and intuitive spiritual counselor when working with clients to overcome trauma and addiction as well as prevent relapse I work on food education, changing eating habits, mindful eating, and redeveloping a relationship with food along with common triggers that cause relapse.
Spiritual Counseling and Life Coaching As I work with clients, in addition to processing any current and childhood pain, we work on life goals that range from developing better communication skills to a career change—anything and everything to bring them into the vision of the life they want. I believe that maintaining a healthy relationship with food involves maintaining a healthy emotional relationship with yourself and your world. Food cannot be used as a substitute for feelings.
The National Eating Disorders Association is the largest nonprofit dedicated to supporting people affected by eating disorders. It has a helpline to call, text, or chat for support. It also offers an abundance of resources on where to get help in your area, as well as access to educational material, legislative advocacy, and charitable organizations. If you're ready to overcome self-neglect, emotional eating, or codependency, embrace self-care as a lifestyle, and require additional support, schedule a Clarity Session with me now by going to the contact page and sending a message explaining your story and what you need support with. Together we can partner on your journey to clear up emotional blocks understand your emotional wounds, and start dealing with your unhealthy eating habits by prioritizing your self-care and wellness goals.
P.S. Note that according to the National Eating Disorders Association, up to half of all people with eating disorders also use alcohol or drugs. Up to 35% of all people with substance use disorders (SUD) also have eating disorders (ED). To learn more regarding this issue take a look at the article written by Elena Hill, MD, MPH.
A childhood filled with problems can enhance the risk of SUDs or EDs later in life.
Children abused or abandoned by their parents, struggling with loss, or dealing with trauma can develop a variety of issues as adults, including what researchers call health-jeopardizing behaviors. They include overeating, smoking, substance use disorders, and other mental illnesses.
Another discovery by psychologists estimates that tens of millions of Americans are addicted to social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. While adults and teens both use the platforms, social media addiction statistics indicate that the younger generation is more easily addicted and more susceptible to negative effects such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts leading to an increase in social media addiction lawsuits. The bottom line is that eating disorders carry similar addictive behaviors as other types of addiction such as social media, drug, or gambling addiction. They are characterized by unhealthy patterns of eating caused by obsessive and compulsive behaviors. In the mental health field, it is known that those who struggle with an eating disorder are five times more likely to abuse alcohol or illicit drugs. Additionally, those who have a history of drug and alcohol abuse are 11 times more likely to have disordered eating habits. A 2013 study explained that alcohol was used as a way to self-soothe and regulate emotions related to ED behaviors. There was a link between alcohol abuse and binge eating, with eating disorder symptoms increasing as alcohol use increased. To learn more regarding this issue take a look at the article written by The Recovery Village.
People with co-occurring substance use disorders (SUD) need to treat any and all conditions together to achieve the best possible outcomes and a chance of long-term recovery.
When an eating disorder co-occurs with substance abuse, addiction, and/or other mental health conditions such as social media, drugs, alcohol, gambling, depression, or anxiety, it is important to seek comprehensive support. Like other forms of addiction, with the right treatment and commitment, people with eating disorders can overcome them.
Help Developing A Plan For Self-Care
Do you want help developing a self-care plan that works for your busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health or life in recovery from sugar addiction or codependency people pleasing, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are in the Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.
About The Author:
Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC
Art Wellness Studio and Botanica with the intention of providing the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to the fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live fulfilling lives in the recovery of sugar addiction, emotional eating, and codependency people pleasing! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. Loving her low-sugar balanced lifestyle.
Dr. Nikki LeToya White