Binge eating disorder—it’s one of the least talked about eating disorders, but simultaneously, the most prevalent. For reference, before we get started, note the following data on binge eating disorder:
- The lifetime prevalence of binge eating disorder is 2.5-4.5% in females and 1-3% in males.
- The global prevalence of binge eating disorder is 1.4% for females and 0.5% for males.
- Binge eating disorder point prevalence rates are extremely similar in high-income vs. low-income countries (0.9% and 0.7%, respectively.)
What is binge eating?
Simply put, it can be a reaction to unmet physical, social, and/or emotional needs.
Bingeing usually involves an inability to control what you’re eating for a short period of time, compulsive/out-of-control feelings, and, sometimes, consuming a large amount of food at once.
It’s associated with clinically significant shame, guilt, and stress and is practiced irrespective of hunger, usually when the sufferer is alone.
What Binge Eating Episodes Have in Common
Binges are usually marked by many of the same characteristics, including the following:
Speed eating means eating in a manner that is substantially faster than the way you would eat a normal meal.
Loss of Control
Binge eating is marked by a feeling of loss of control and an inability to stop the behavior voluntarily.
This is exactly what it sounds like—eating when you’re not hungry or continuing to eat after you’re full!
Binges can also be marked by secrecy, with the sufferer usually consuming the food in private, away from others.
Lastly, binges can be characterized by marked distress in the person suffering, including guilt, shame, and regret.
Three Unmet Needs that Trigger Binges
Several different factors can trigger binges, but three unmet needs will commonly trigger this type of disordered eating:
Functional (Nourishment): Diet Rigidity
First is rigidity in your diet. If you aren’t eating enough and giving your body plenty of energy to function, overwhelming hunger can trigger a binge. In addition, the “broken food rule,” i.e., falling off the diet wagon and eating something viewed as “unhealthy,” can trigger a binge to eat as much as possible before the diet restarts.
Social: Overvaluation of Shape and Size
Judgments of self-worth based on weight or shape can also trigger binge episodes. People who binge eat might evaluate themselves mostly on their body image and place extreme importance on weight and body shape. This restriction and judgment can trigger binge eating.
Emotional: Mood Dysregulation
Lastly, one’s inability to manage or tolerate certain emotional states (such as sadness, anger, or fear) can trigger binge eating episodes. Bingeing can even become a way for this person to avoid feeling emotions or numb pain.
How to Determine What Your Unmet Needs Are
So, how do you know which unmet needs could trigger your binge eating disorder? This can usually be determined by answering a few questions about yourself:
- Do you have food “rules,” regularly forcing yourself to ignore your hunger or restricting your intake of certain foods for a reason that isn’t medical? Do you label certain foods as “good” or “bad”? If so, your functional needs may be unmet.
- Do you have a positive relationship with your body, treating it with the same kindness and grace you would treat someone else’s body? If not, your social needs could be unmet.
- Do you know how to calm yourself down when experiencing extreme emotions through means other than food? If not, your emotional needs could be unmet.
The most important thing is to start getting curious and reflecting as much as possible.
How to Stop Binge Eating
Putting an end to binge eating isn’t easy and can require the attention of a medical professional and/or therapist to do so safely and effectively. But, to seek help, you have to be willing to do so, making willingness a huge component. In addition, the following things can be done to help alleviate binge eating symptoms:
Address Your Diet Rigidity and End Physical Restriction
To do this, practice eating consistently, eating enough, and allowing yourself to have foods from all food groups (barring any medical restrictions, of course.) This ensures you’re getting the energy and nutrients you need.
Also, work on challenging food fears and food rules by ceasing engagement with diet mentality and slowing down to truly enjoy your food at mealtime. This can help reduce the urge to binge later on.
Learn to Manage and Regulate Emotions
This may involve healing deep emotional wounds, sitting through difficult emotions without food, and calming yourself down through means other than food, such as journaling, meditating, or deep breathing. Explore what works for you!
Make Peace with Your Body
Get on the same team as your body! Take care of it as you would care for someone else’s—not with hatred and disdain, but with love and grace. It’s the vessel that allows you to experience life—and should be treated as such!
Build Resilience to Diet Culture
Lastly, be sure to build up your resilience to diet culture! It’s a real thing popularized by the media and can have detrimental psychological and physical effects.
Remember—there will always be tough days and situations, but it’s how you manage the tough days and situations that counts!
If you are currently suffering from binge eating disorder, seeking help from a licensed therapist and/or medical professional is important. There IS help and hope out there, and recovery is possible.
My name is Ryann, and I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Certified Nutritionist with a BA in Psychology, and hold an MA in Professional Counseling! For more information on myself and my services, check out this page. I’d love to help you get comfortable in your body and find food freedom!
Keywords: binge eating, binge eating disorder, stop binge eating