Binge eating disorder (BED) affects about two percent of the overall population, making it easily the most common eating disorder in the United States.Unlike other eating disorders, people with BED don’t usually lose weight, but instead, tend to be overweight. Nonetheless, binge eating disorder is often related to a person’s experiences with dieting and concerns over their weight. While dieting itself is not a primary cause of binge eating disorder, the stresses that normally result in extreme dieting are very commonly associated with the disorder itself.
Causes of Binge Eating Disorder
The experts at binge eating treatment centers can’t point to a single cause of BED, but they agree that a combination of factors is almost always present. These include:
Certain glandular and hormonal diseases can trigger the beginnings of binge eating disorder, by removing a person’s ability to feel “full” or satiated. Another biological factor seems to be genetic, as people whose parents have BED are more likely to develop the disorder themselves.
Binge eating disorder is much more present in people with other mental health disorders, especially anxiety disorders and depression. This ties into dieting as these disorders often cause people to feel their body is fat or otherwise unattractive, which can cause them to experiment with extreme or fad dieting.
This is the factor that most closely aligns with dieting as a cause of BED. People who are criticized for their weight or appearance as children, or are forced into dieting, often develop feelings of guilt or shame surrounding food intake, which can lead to a disordered relationship with food. Sneaking food or eating in private while dieting in public are clear signs there may be a problem.
Self-Image and Body Image
Binge eating disorder is inextricably tied to body image, as are most cases of extreme dieting. Almost every form of eating disorder is centered at least in part in a negative self-image, which simply means the person doesn’t like what they see when they look in the mirror. In all eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, orthorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, a distorted or negative self-image is a causative factor.
The average age for onset of BED is usually in late adolescence or early adulthood (although it’s not unusual for adults in middle age to experience the disorder), but a poor self-image often has roots in childhood. Children who experience criticism or mockery for their weight or body shape can internalize the negative feelings resulting from these criticisms, feeling ashamed about their body or guilt over their eating habits. If a parent or a medical team forces the individual into a diet or makes them feel that their body is somehow “bad” it can set the seeds for future binge eating disorder.
Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder and Compulsive Dieting
It’s completely possible to recover from binge eating disorder and establish healthy eating habits with the help of an eating disorder specialist or therapist. People with binge eating disorder experience a cycle of negative self-image, which leads to dieting, which leads to binge eating episodes, returning to the feelings of guilt or shame that brought on the negative self-image in the first place. Unfortunately, this cycle becomes entrenched if left untreated over time, making it worse and worse.
Although there are certain medical treatments for BED, eating disorder treatment programs that focus on the psychological and emotional underpinnings of the disorder are more successful in the long run. A fully recovered lifestyle is only possible if the root causes and emotions are addressed through experienced and compassionate therapy. In these situations, having a recovered staff who has gone through the same process really helps ease the process.
It’s hard to break the cycle of disordered eating without professional help – that’s why eating disorder treatment centers have prioritized personalized, evidence-based treatment methods to help their charges.
Techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are a perfect example. Through a number of sessions, clients engaging in CBT will identify disordered thoughts and feelings surrounding food and self-perception, and then make a concentrated effort to understand them. They can then begin to replace these distorted and negative thoughts with more realistic, and self-accepting thought patterns. One of these positive attitudes is a “healthy” relationship with food.
Many of the feelings of shame surrounding a person’s body, acquired from parental influence, media, or elsewhere have been so internalized that a person with BED may even feel that food is an enemy of sorts. Breaking this cycle is possible by accepting themselves and their body – not ignoring a medically appropriate weight and nutritional balance but not putting undue pressure on oneself to meet an unrealistic goal of attractiveness.