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What is binge eating disorder?


Like all eating disorders, binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness that can affect any person regardless of their age, gender, body size, ethnicity, or income. BED is the most common eating disorder, with almost half of all eating disorders in Australia diagnosed as binge eating disorder. But what is BED, how does it affect you, and what is the role of a dietitian in supporting recovery?


What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder involves eating a quantity of food in a short period of time (within 2 hours) that is larger than what most people would consume in the same period. The binge is accompanied by feeling a lack of control regarding what you eat, how much you consume, and when you stop eating.


Unlike bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa, BED is not associated with compensatory behaviours such as purging or excessive exercise, but this does not make it any less distressing or serious.

People with BED can often experience uncomfortable feelings such as

  • Extreme fullness

  • Embarrassment

  • Disgust with themselves

  • Shame

  • Guilt.

Because of the stigma around binge eating, many people binge in secret and may find it difficult to seek support from a health care professional or loved ones. It is important to remember that BED is a mental health condition and is not due to a lack of willpower or personal failings.


What triggers a binge?

There are many things that may trigger a binge eating episode. Binge eating may be a tool that you use to deal with difficult experiences or challenging emotions. If you are feeling lonely, bored, stressed, or anxious, binge eating can be a way to distract yourself from your emotions or circumstances.


Dieting or restricting your food intake through food rules can also trigger a binge eating episode. This is because when we limit our access to food our brain responds by increasing our hunger signals and cravings for food. This causes us to break the diet which can trigger a binge. This is known as the “binge-restrict cycle” and many people find themselves stuck cycling through diets that are impossible to follow and result in a binge.



Signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder

BED can impact our behaviours, as well as our physical, and psychological health.


Physical:

  • Weight fluctuations

  • Feeling tired

  • Bloating and constipation

  • Acid reflux and indigestion

  • Difficulty recognising hunger and fullness cues

Psychological:

  • Obsessing over food, eating and body shape

  • Low self-esteem

  • Feeling distress, sadness, guilt and shame after a binge eating episode

  • Poor body image

  • Difficulty socialising or engaging in work, study or hobbies

Behavioural:

  • Hiding food or being secretive about binges

  • Avoiding eating in social settings

  • Withdrawing from relationships and social engagement

  • Avoiding questions or conversations about food and eating


Developing a healthy relationship with food

Recovering from BED and developing a healthy relationship with food and your body is possible. As BED is a mental illness, working with a psychologist can support your recovery while a dietitian can help you with your relationship with food.


A dietitian assists you with breaking the binge-restrict cycle and developing a pattern of eating that meets your requirements.


Diet culture spreads many confusing messages around food and what a healthy diet should look like which contributes to feelings of guilt and shame towards food. Dietitian appointments give you the space to unpack many of these harmful messages and reconnect with your body.


A healthy relationship with food enables you to trust your ability to nourish your body and reduces the guilt associated with eating. Food no longer takes up residence in your brain and you can now invest in your relationships, hobbies, work, and all the things that are important to you!


Get support

If you would like support with binge eating disorder, a great place to start is talking to your GP who can provide you with an Eating Disorder Management Plan. This provides 20 dietitian sessions with a Medicare rebate.


Nutrition in Mind dietitians are Credentialed Eating Disorder Clinicians and provide telehealth support for people struggling with an eating disorder or their relationship with food.







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