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How to Overcome and Break Free From Binge Eating Disorder

Written by Toni Rudd, RD and reviewed by Talia Cecchele, RD


Overcome and Break Free From Binge Eating Disorder - Talia Cecchele Nutrition

How to Overcome and Break Free from Binge Eating Disorder.


Understanding the underlying triggers for binge eating can feel like a puzzle. You might be confused by mixed messages from family members, friends, the internet, social media and healthcare professionals. If you are finding it difficult to navigate and overcome, please know that you are not alone. 


What is Binge Eating Disorder?

It is suggested that 1 in 50 people will experience Binge Eating Disorder (1) at some point in their life. Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a recognised clinical eating disorder under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5 (2). It is a complex disorder and hugely under-researched.  


What is classified as a binge?

Binge eating as a behaviour, forms part of the diagnostic criteria for BED, but what exactly counts as a binge?  Did you know that there are two types of binge eating?


  • Objective Binge Eating

This refers to when a person consumes an unusually large amount of food, often in a short period of time and more food than most people would eat in the same time (e.g. 2 hours), accompanied by a sense of loss of control. 


This could look like eating beyond the point of comfortable fullness, driven by emotional triggers or external factors. It's important to recognise that objective binge eating can vary from person to person.


  • Subjective Binge Eating:

This refers to when a person eats a larger amount than they had planned and experiences the same feelings of guilt, shame and loss of control, however, the amount of food consumed would be deemed a normal amount.  For example, a person might eat a sandwich and consider this a binge, if they had only planned to allow themselves a small amount of fruit. 


In the DSM 5, emphasis is on a person experiencing objective binge eating, at a frequency of at least once a week for three months to meet diagnostic criteria. However, feelings of shame, embarrassment, and guilt after binge eating are important components of BED and just because a person might not meet the frequency or intensity set out in the DSM 5, shouldn't hold them back from seeking support (in our opinion). These emotional aspects can have a profound impact on one's mental health and often contribute to the cyclical nature of binge eating episodes.


Why do we binge eat? 

There are many reasons why a person might engage in binge eating behaviours. Here are some of the most common triggers:


  • Diet Culture

Living in a world fixated on unrealistic standards places an undue emphasis on a particular body ideal. Thinness is glorified, often incorrectly equated with health and success. This culture encourages restrictive eating patterns and extreme dieting as supposed pathways to achieving these narrow standards, frequently neglecting the diversity of body types and healthy living. 


The pressure to conform to these ideals can lead to participating in restrictive diets that eventually contribute to many issues, from body dissatisfaction to the development of unhealthy relationships with food which can then perpetuate into binge eating.


  • Restricted Food Intake:

Binge eating doesn't just happen to those who diet. Perhaps you have been unwell or you experience low appetite from medication (e.g. in ADHD). Skipping meals or have a restricted food intake which can contribute to binge eating. 


  • Generational Diet Trauma:

Generational diet trauma refers to the transmission of negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours related to food, body image, and weight from one generation to the next. It involves the passing down of harmful dieting practices, body shaming, and unrealistic beauty standards within families. This transmission can occur through direct communication, observational learning, or subtle cultural influences within a family environment.


Individuals who experience generational diet trauma may grow up in households where certain foods are labelled as "good" or "bad," where body weight is linked to self-worth, and where restrictive eating patterns are normalised. 


These learned behaviours and attitudes can have a lasting impact on one's relationship with food, contributing to issues such as disordered eating, body dissatisfaction, and a distorted self-image.


  • A way to cope with difficult emotions:

Emotional struggles play a significant role in the initiation of binge eating. Whether it's stress, anxiety, upset, anger or grief, binge eating can offer a way of coping with these feelings or an escape from difficulties in a persons life. Some people report a "high" after binging, but this shortly leads to intense negative emotions and feelings of guilt and shame.


Binge eating can be an unhealthy coping strategy for emotional regulation and not having the skills to be connected with and embodied can influence binge eating behaviours.


The Binge Eating Cycle

The binge eating cycle is a recurring pattern of behaviours which are characterised by consuming a large amount of food in a relatively short period, often accompanied by guilt and shame.



1. Starting restrictive eating

An external or internal factor can initiate restrictive eating and the binge eating cycle. This could include emotional stress, negative body image or low self worth to name a few.


2. Short term success

This is usually in the form of weight loss.


3. Physical and psychological deprivation

In response to restriction, our bodies can increase our leptin levels which makes us more hungry and increase cravings of thoughts about food.


4. Break diet rules

A person breaks the diet restriction and engages in over eating or binge eating


5. As a result of eating more, this leads to increased feelings of guilt and shame, and blame for not being able to "stick" to the diet.


... and we start the dietary restriction again.


How to break the Binge Eating Cycle

Breaking free from the cycle of binge eating is undoubtedly a journey and one that requires compassion, understanding and patience. Here are some tips that will support you on that journey.


  • Focus on health away from weight

True health encompasses mental, emotional and physical aspects (3). Moving away from focusing on weight will help you distance yourself from the societal pressure of conforming to a certain body ideal. It’s important to celebrate non-scale victories which might be, an improvement in energy levels, better sleep, improved self-compassion, reducing/stopping binge eating cycles or eating all the food groups at each meal.


  • Eat regular meals and snacks

Establishing regular eating patterns helps stabilise blood glucose levels, calm the nervous system and reduce the likelihood of extreme hunger that can trigger binge eating episodes (4). Consistent meals also create a sense of routine and predictability, fostering a positive relationship between food and the body. It can also bring back some inner awareness to feelings such as hunger and fullness which can contribute to building up self-trust.


  • Say yes to the food you enjoy

To heal your relationship with food, you have to say yes to food, you probably try hard to avoid it when dieting. This over time will allow you the pleasure of eating foods you genuinely enjoy without guilt. This inclusive approach reduces the allure of forbidden foods and contributes to a balanced, sustainable eating pattern.


  • Dealing with being uncomfortably full

Being uncomfortably full will happen, it’s a normal part of human feeling. If you are in the binge eating cycle, this feeling can bring on all sorts of emotions such as guilt and shame and can trigger the response to restrict food. Instead, try approaching the discomfort with self-compassion by wearing comfortable clothes and reminding yourself that the uncomfortable feeling will pass.


  • Improve your body image

Challenge negative thoughts about your body by focusing on its capabilities rather than its appearance. Gradually replace body checking and shaming with positive self-talk and diversify your social media with positive influences that celebrate diverse body shapes and sizes.


  • Build an Emotional Toolbox

Emotional eating is a normal, common response to stress and difficult emotions, but if food is your only source of comfort, this can be a negative way to react. Instead, build your emotional toolbox which are activities that can bring you the joy and headspace you need after a difficult time. 


Breaking the binge eating cycle involves understanding and addressing the reasons why you are binge eating. Learning alternative coping strategies and fostering a more positive and balanced relationship with food and one's body.


Need support with Binge Eating?

Experiencing binge eating can be overwhelming and difficult to overcome alone. We offer 1:1 support at the TCN clinic to help you break food rules, find food freedom and kickstart your recovery. You can find out more about how we can support you here.


Toni Rudd

TCN Specialist Dietitian


Toni Rudd Dietitian at Talia Cecchele Nutrition

Toni is passionate about supporting people to achieve a truly healthy relationship with food and body acceptance, by healing their relationship with food and body by establishing sustainable, health-promoting behaviours for life. Toni works for the TCN Clinic alongside her work as @thebingedietitian



 

Talia Cecchele Nutrition is a team of registered dietitians that specialise in eating disorder recovery, disordered eating, digestive issues and sports nutrition. We aim to bring balance back to nutrition, help you to break free from food rules and find food freedom. We offer virtual consultations and group programs so whether you are based in London, the United Kingdom or around the world we would love to support you. To enquire about a private consultation please fill out a contact form.

 

REFERENCES:

  1. Anon, (2021). The facts and figures show the scale of Binge Eating Disorder | Action Mental Health. [online] Available at: https://www.amh.org.uk/the-facts-and-figures-show-the-scale-of-binge-eating-disorder/.

  2. DSM-V, 2013. Feeding and Eating Disorders. [online] DSM Library. Available at: <https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm10> [Accessed 14 August 2023]

  3. ASDAH (2020). The Health at Every Size® (HAES®) Approach. [online] ASDAH. Available at: https://asdah.org/health-at-every-size-haes-approach/.

  4. ‌Jeffrey, S. (n.d.). RAVES: A step-by-step approach to re-establishing normal eating. [online] Available at: https://ceed.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/CEED_Handout_RAVES_Jeffrey.pdf [Accessed 29 Nov. 2023]

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