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Therapists explain common causes of Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

by Sarah Graham
Wednesday 25 February 2015
309 634

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a form of eating disorder characterised by compulsive overeating. Binges involve eating large amounts of food over a short period of time, regardless of whether you are hungry, and may involve particular "special" binge foods. People affected by BED often binge in private because they feel ashamed of their lack of control over their eating habits. They may also experience periods of limiting their food consumption between binges. We asked RSCPP therapists to explain the common causes of this eating disorder.


Learning patterns of behaviour from your parents

Therapist: Registered Counsellor Styliani Stathi
We are all influenced by our parents' patterns of thinking and behaving. Likewise, the family environment you grow up in may, in different ways, encourage the development of Binge Eating Disorder later in life. Eating for emotional reasons, which is a fundamental characteristic of BED, can be picked up on and assumed by children when they observe their parents or other family members engaging in this behaviour - even more so when food is explicitly used as a reward or punishment toward the children themselves. If your family used, or abused, food as a coping mechanism, you may have found that free, healthy, genuine emotional expression was not encouraged or even allowed, as grown-ups who are not comfortable and intimate with their own emotions are bound to treat their children's emotional display the same way. This tendency towards emotional suppression, in combination with the behaviour of overeating being passed down from one generation to the next, within your family, can lead to you establishing a love-and-hate relationship with food and fostering impulsive behaviour. Both of these set the foundation for the more serious and challenging manifestation of Binge Eating Disorder, with its more compulsive and secretive nature, to develop.
Registered Counsellor Styliani Stathi


An inner sense of powerlessness

Binge Eating Disorder is usually influenced by your inner sense of powerlessness. The binge and purge process can give you a sense of power and control that you otherwise don't perceive. The binge can also feel as though an emptiness (emotional) is being filled, though this can be followed by a sense of self-disgust or anxiety, which then compels you to rid yourself of what's been consumed. This process is often compulsive and unconscious. Support involves helping you to become more consciously aware of these impulses and to understand why you feel the need to binge. Keeping a diary, being more aware of thoughts and attempting a more balanced lifestyle can help with this disorder.


Feeling out of control

Binge eating is an 'out of control' issue, and often goes hand in hand with feeling out of control in other ways. It may be linked with difficulty handling emotions, anxiety, depression, lack of self-esteem, or a need for comfort or reward. It can also be the result of extreme dieting. Self-starvation triggers the survival instinct; the body craves food so desperately that it eats without even thinking. The mind is literally shut out. Sufferers of binge eating disorder feel upset after a binge, and so the cycle restarts with self-recrimination, dieting, and then the binge.


Emotional regulation

Binge eating can be used as a form of emotional regulation by people who find it intolerable or difficult to process emotions and make sense of them. If you struggle with binge eating, you may often binge when you are experiencing or overwhelmed by certain emotions that you are unable to process. Without thinking, you may find yourself bingeing when feeling happy, sad, angry, bored, tired, and so forth. Food becomes your fixation, and the oral incorporation of food triggers a temporary sense of satisfaction, fulfilment and gratification. What makes this cycle very vicious is the sense of guilt that most people who binge often experience after bingeing. Some will go as far as purging, while others restart the cycle again, which becomes intolerable. Food is very symbolic in many different ways, and it can be seen as a source of life to the infantile and primitive parts of yourself.

Finding support

If you are concerned about Binge Eating Disorder (BED) then you may like to read about finding the right therapist for you. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

Find a Therapist working with Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

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Updated 25 February 2015