Overeating as a coping mechanism: Binge eating disorder
Sometimes we overeat and we feel extremely guilty about it afterwards. Our eating behaviours mayalso get influenced by our mood - who has never experienced nervous eating because of stress? Or not feeling hungry at all due to disillusionment?
For some people overeating becomes a real problem, it may happen on a weekly basis (or more often) and it’s painful and difficult to handle.
Binging implies the ingestion of a great amount of food (much more than the average intake) in a short period period of time (for a maximum two hours).
Binging is a symptom occurring both in bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder (BED); the main difference between the two conditions is that in bulimia nervosa binges are followed by behaviours that aim to specifically compensate the great ingestion of food, such as the use of laxatives, intense physical activity, vomiting, etc. Whereas those behaviours are not present in BED.
BED is a severe and distressful eating disorder, often associated with obesity or overweight, and less frequently found in individuals of normal weight.
The main features of BED’s binging involve a compelling feeling to overeat and the lack of control on what is going on; sometimes the person suffering from this condition may eat until it hurts.
But the worse has yet to come: the end of the binge usually brings forth intense and extreme feelings of guilt, shame and depression, leaving the person ashamed and disgusted of themselves.
Why does this happen?
Several reasons may contribute to BED. First of all, people suffering from BED tend to have dysregulated eating habits - very often they practice uncontrolled diet restrictions which seem to be one of the triggers behind binging dynamics. Secondly, very often binges are triggered by intense emotions that are difficult to deal with. When strong and mixed feelings arise, one may feel overwhelmed and may not know how to manage their own emotions. A binge in some cases may represent an immediate solution as it temporarily shed negative emotions. The problem lies in the fact the spectrum of negative emotions brought forth by binge eating creates a powerful vicious cycle adding to the original negative feelings and therefore increasing the risk of further binging.
How can psychotherapy help?
If you recognise yourself in the aforementioned dynamics, you should not underestimate what is going on. Individuals with BED are unlikely to have a spontaneous remission. Psychotherapy, and sometimes a concomitant psychiatric medication, can help you break the vicious cycles by preventing binge eating. Remarkable steps of the therapy process include an intervention to regularise eating habits, psycho-education of emotions and coping mechanisms. A substantial part of therapy process will focus on strengthening the individual’s self-esteem in order to unburden the patient of the negative sense of guilt and shame.
If you want to know more about emotions, their usefulness and emotional intelligence, you can read as well the following articles:
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About Ilaria Tedeschi
Ilaria Tedeschi is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist in Marylebone, London, with several years of experience working with depressive, anxiety, sleep and relational problems.