Eating is a vital part of the human experience. Food provides the calories, nutrients and vitamins a body needs to survive, and the acts of cooking and sharing meals are often considered highly social and highly valuable parts of the day-to-day interactions people share with one another. But, for the 2 percent of Americans the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates have binge eating disorders, eating appropriately can be difficult, if not impossible. These people may eat incredible amounts of food in one sitting, and they may feel disgusted, depressed or angry about the episodes when they’re over.
People who behave this way with addictive substances like alcohol or drugs are encouraged to stay away from these items altogether, and develop lives in which they’re not ever tempted to use or abuse the substances that cause them so much difficulty. People with binge eating disorders can’t follow the same advice, as avoiding food could quickly lead to death. These people need to learn how to renegotiate their relationships with food, and structured treatment programs can help them to do just that. People with binge eating disorders may be morbidly obese, and they may have significant health problems due to that obesity, including:
- Heart disease
- Kidney stones
These people may not be able to develop their own eating plans, however, as diets tend to cause them the sorts of stress and distress that can lead to binge eating episodes. Instead, these people may benefit from structured treatment programs in which they’re provided with nutritious meals and steered away from foods they might be tempted to use on a binge. In the early part of treatment, these people might be provided with cooked meals in a controlled environment, and they may have very little say over what is on the menu for each meal. In time, however, these people might be asked to learn how to build their own diets for weight loss. Throughout the program, medical staff ensures that the person in treatment loses weight at a safe level, and that no negative side effects of weight loss are taking place.
Weight loss programs are an important part of the entire treatment package, but they can’t be considered a standalone therapy for these kinds of eating disorders. The triggers that lead people to binge will still be in place when the person has lost weight, after all, and without help, the person might begin to binge once more and gain back all the weight that was lost.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered a frontline treatment for binge eating disorders, due to its long track record of helping people to understand their cravings and learn how to control their urges. In one study of the issue, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers found that CBT is an effective treatment that continues to benefit people for a full 2 years, if not longer. It can be a significant help to people as they learn how to control their minds and keep their binges under control.
People who have binge eating disorders often eat when they are upset or distressed about something else. They use food as a distraction, allowing the mechanical movements used to eat food, along with the sights, smells and feel of food to keep them from thinking about the issue that brought them distress. Some people with the disorder feel as though they’re in a trance while they’re eating, unable to control what they are doing and why. CBT is perfectly designed to help people who feel this way. During a CBT session, people are encouraged to identify the thoughts and feelings they experience in the moments leading up to a binge. They might be able to break the stressors apart and really see them clearly for the very first time.
Once those triggers have been identified, therapists work with their clients to develop a toolkit of techniques they can use in order to keep future binges at bay. People who binge while experiencing stress, for example, might be provided with lessons in deep breathing or relaxation. People who binge while suppressing their anger, on the other hand, might be provided with lessons in communication and expression. When the trigger is identified and a plan is in place, the urge to binge might seem to slip away.
This form of therapy can also be helpful for people who have addictions as well as binge eating disorders. These people might lean on drugs or alcohol to calm their minds, in much the same way that they use food as a distraction from mental misery. In CBT sessions, clients can learn more about how drugs and eating disorders can comingle, and they can learn how to keep their cravings for drugs at bay using the power of the mind.
CBT sessions like this can be provided in a one-on-one setting in which the person in treatment has the undivided and sole attention of a licensed therapist, but the therapy might also be provided in group settings. Here, the person can learn from other people who also have binge eating syndromes, and the group can role play and practice specific types of skills with one another. This kind of therapy can be transformative for people who aren’t accustomed to discussing their binges with others. They may find their feelings of shame are reduced when they see that others have much the same issues.
While discussing the issue and learning skills is important for people who have binge eating disorders, there are some alternative therapies that could also be useful as people learn how to put their lives back together. For example, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that biofeedback could be a useful tool for people who have binge eating disorders. Biofeedback sessions use a sophisticated tool that measures a large number of inputs from the body, such as heart rate and respiration rate, and provides those cues in a visual format that people can quickly see and understand. In biofeedback sessions, people learn how to use these visual cues to control the workings of their bodies. When the lights indicate that they are under stress, they learn how to control their breathing and pulse to keep those lights from flashing. It’s the ultimate mind-over-matter treatment, as people learn how to keep their thoughts from impacting the way that their bodies respond. When the body’s responses are under control, slipping into unconscious behaviors is much harder. For people who have binge eating disorders, getting in touch with the body in this way can be extremely important.
Some programs also provide gentle exercise programs for their clients. These programs might encourage clients to take lessons in tai chi or yoga, learning how to move their bodies with precision while they control their breathing and heart rate. These sessions can help people to feel more connected to the health and well-being of their bodies, but the sessions can also help people learn how to remain calm and focused despite the whirlwind of activity that surrounds them. When these people feel distress or unease, they can use their exercise programs to help them stay calm, instead of binging.
Treatment programs for eating disorders tend to last for a few weeks, and when they are complete, people will need to keep their conditions under control, even when they’re living in an environment that may not foster their long-term health. It can be difficult, but people learn a variety of self-help treatments in therapy that can help. According to the Mayo Clinic, these steps include:
- Eating breakfast
- Focusing on eating healthful meals
- Staying connected with others
- Remaining physically active
It might sound simple enough to accomplish, but people with binge eating disorders may tire of the idea of handling the disorder on a daily basis, and they may be tempted to slip back into their old ways when the pressures build. Staying engaged in a support group can help. Eating disorders support groups are made up of people who have disorders, not of professionals who are trying to solve the problem or understand the issue. This group of peers has a deep understanding of what it’s like to live with an eating disorder, and the group may work hard to ensure that everyone feels welcomed, supported and respected. A support group is a perfect place to vent concerns, ask for help or simply share stories. For people in recovery from eating disorders, these meetings can be vital to long-term success.
Families might also have an intense role to play in long-term recovery. Family members likely know what a binge eating episode looks like in the person they love, and they might also know how to spot the behaviors that tend to lead to an episode. When treatment is complete and the person is independent once more, families can be on the lookout for the signs of a relapse, and they can encourage the person they love to get help when they see a relapse unfolding. It might sound like policing, but in truth, it’s a method of ensuring that the lessons learned in treatment aren’t lost or forgotten. That’s something the person is likely to be grateful for.
Binge eating disorders are relatively new to the medical world, and some doctors don’t quite understand the issue. For example, a study in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that binge eating episodes fell from 6 to 1.7 per week when people were given placebo medication. The researchers suggest the drop is due to a misdiagnosis, but it could be that the drop appeared because people finally felt listened to in regard to the issues they faced. Misunderstandings like this might lead people down the wrong treatment path.
Most eating disorders are diagnosed by a doctor, but binge eating disorders might best be diagnosed by a mental health specialist who has experience dealing with the issue. Binge eating disorders can look like simple obesity, and binges can be associated with all sorts of other issues, including pregnancy and growth spurts. It’s best to let a professional make the call, and accept the treatment program that person puts forward.
At Axis, we’d like to help you. We specialize in helping people who have both eating disorders and substance abuse or addiction issues, and we provide care in a warm and comforting environment. We utilize proven treatments to help our clients succeed, and we tailor all the treatments we provide to meet the needs of our clients. We’d like to help you too. Please call us to get the enrollment process started.