I always say that the most challenging clients to treat are those with Binge Eating Disorder. This surprises a lot of people because when they hear I treat eating disorders, they think of emaciated young women on the brink of death, fearing “getting fat,” or eating nearly nothing. In this post, we are going to discuss a binge eating disorder recovery plan for overcoming this serious eating disorder.
First of all, this is not how most clients with anorexia nervosa present and secondly, clients with anorexia nervosa do have medical issues that might push them earlier into treatment. There are also a number of societal perceptions that bias our understanding of people with binge eating disorder. We live in a culture that tends to label people in larger bodies as “fat”, “lazy”, “unmotivated”, “unhealthy”, and “lacking in willpower.” Whereas people who are underweight are “sick.” This fundamental difference makes it very hard for people who struggle with binge eating to seek out help because the majority of the providers they may have had contact with over the years give them diet advice. Those without an understanding of eating disorders tend only to see the weight and not the emotional issues that drive the unhealthy relationship with food. Conversely, individuals with binge eating disorder are subject to the same biases and often feel that they will be able to “feel happy” or “start living their lives” once they “lose the weigh.” This preoccupation with thinness as the solution for the binge eating disorder is an enormous obstacle to recovery and to treatment. Clients often come in wanting therapy to make them better at dieting, not realizing that the work is much deeper than this. If you are focusing on the weight loss, you are missing the point.
In my opinion, this involves an internal shift emotionally. One that goes from wanting to be a certain weight or to look a certain way to a recognition and desire to fully care for one’s self. Fundamentally, if a person does not re-prioritize, reflect, and resolve the issues in their life that causes him stress and distress, he will continue to be disconnected from his body. Changing the way you eat for a discreet period of time may result in weight loss. But, if you do not get your life into balance in a number of important areas, you will not be able to maintain it. This means learning to read your body and respect what it is telling you (hunger, fullness, tired, bored, thirsty, etc.). It also involves accepting your body and not forcing it to be something it was never meant to be. It is this combination of over-investment in thinness, or being thinner, along with a disconnect from the body that keeps people in a vicious cycle of never ending dieting, chronic frustration and guilt, and constant body shame.
So why is it that we are so bad at being attuned to our bodies? Even people who do not have binge eating disorder struggle to recognize what their bodies need.
There are a lot of reasons. But, we often start to use food emotionally (if that is something we are going to struggle with) in childhood. Think about how babies regulate their food intake, it’s not based on emotion, it’s just physical hunger and fullness. We are born with the innate ability to regulate our food intake and our weight. At some point, we lose our connection to this innate ability and veer off course. There are a multitude of reasons for this but some include:
- Food focused family – gave you food to soothe your feelings, used food to express intimate feelings
- Having a parent who chronically dieted or overate when they were stressed.
- Trauma, this can happen at any time in life
- Family discord or chaos, as a child or as an adult
- Invalidating environment that did not allow for proper expression of emotions.
- Coming from a highly achievement oriented environment that placed more value on your achievements rather than on your emotional well-being.
If you know you are an emotional eater, then why is a diet the answer? The problem is not the food, it’s the emotions. If you find yourself struggling with binge eating disorder, you may want to consider the following steps to work towards a recovery plan.
1. Seek Out a Mental Health Professional
The first step of a binge eating disorder recovery plan is to seek out a mental health professional and/or a nutritionist who is trained in eating disorders.
Remember that binge eating disorder is not a “weight problem” it is a psychological disorder that requires specialty training. Furthermore, you may want to speak to the professionals before making an appointment to determine if they have any awareness of Health At Every Size. Even if the clinician is not specifically trained in this protocol, familiarity with this would be a good indicator that this person will not push dieting on you. Other terms you may look for are body positivity, mindful or intuitive eating, non-diet approach.
2. Reject the Diet Mentality
The second step of a binge eating disorder recovery plan is to Reject the diet mentality.
It is time to acknowledge the fact that diets have not given you the outcomes you had hoped for. What would it be like to consider the idea that you have been looking at this backwards? A diet is an outside-in intervention. This means that you are hoping that by changing the outside, you will feel better on the inside. What if we reversed that? What if we worked on changing the inside so that eventually you feel better on the outside? This may or may not mean your weight changes. What it means is that your intrinsic satisfaction with your life, your ability to manage your emotions, and your self-confidence will be something that others can detect. It means that these feelings will result in a general enhancement in your ability to take care of yourself, to communicate with others, and to make choices in your life that bring meaning and satisfaction to you on a daily basis.
3. Know Your Triggers
The third step of a binge eating disorder recovery plan is to know your triggers.
- Are there certain people or situations that reliably cause you stress?
- Is something that has meaning to you that you are no longer doing?
- Is there a past hurt that you can’t seem to move past, that still bothers you?
- Do you have difficulty in either one important relationship or with relationships generally?
- Is it difficult for you to honestly express your feelings or concerns to others?
- Are you generally avoidant of conflict?
- Do you repeatedly worry that being direct will hurt the other person?
- Do you have trouble identifying your feelings?
- Do you find that you have a hard time of letting go of anger or are you a person who “never gets angry?”
- Do you find that you never seem to have time for yourself? That you allow the needs of others to come before your own, even basic needs like having a proper meal or having some down time?
4. Work on Creating a Schedule to Eat
The fourth step of a binge eating disorder recovery plan is to work on creating a schedule to eat.
Many people with binge eating disorder find that they will binge more at certain times of the day. Then, they restrict their intake as a means of compensating for the binge. They then get caught in a cycle of restricting and bingeing not realizing that waiting so long to eat actually sets them up to binge again. Even though this may seem counter-intuitive, get yourself back to a 3 meals a day schedule.
You may also need to include a couple of snacks in there as well since most people go a long time between meals. Having more structure with your meals also means being willing to do a little meal planning which involves going grocery shopping, doing some cooking or meal prep, or making a plan to figure out where you will get your meals from. Many people with binge eating disorder avoid any kind of organization or preparation of their own meals.
Then, because they tend to put their own needs aside for others, they find themselves in a situation where they are famished and busy so it opens the door to grabbing something quick and easy, which may not be an appropriate food choice. If you are not able or inclined to any kind of prep work related to your meals, you may need to enlist the assistance of a friend, family member, or meal service to help you eat more appropriate meals.
5. Connect Behavior with Food and Your Emotional State
The fifth step of a binge eating disorder recovery plan is to begin to think about the idea that your behavior with food is actually reflecting something about you on an emotional level. Get curious about what that might be. This is the beginning of that shift where we move from considering this a weight problem to an emotional problem. Maybe take a little time every day to meditate, to journal, to read self-help books, to pray or engage in a spiritual practice, or anything that will help you to slow down and become more aware of yourself. Begin to honor your own emotional experience without trying to cover it up with food. Even though this can be quite uncomfortable, developing a capacity to recognize and cope with your own feelings is a key to recovery from binge eating disorder.
6. Stop Labeling foods as “Good” or “Bad”
Stop labeling foods as good or bad. This black and white thinking leads to feelings of guilt, shame and worthlessness. The road to recovery is not about eating perfectly every day, it is about making progress and doing better on a daily basis. You will be able to achieve health, in every sense of the word, over the long haul.
7. Make Small Changes You Can Commit to
The last step of a binge eating disorder recovery plan is to start with one small change you can commit to. Maybe that is making an appointment with a psychologist, maybe that means taking a 15 minute walk at lunch, maybe that means calling a friend every day just to blow off steam, or maybe that is returning to a hobby or activity that you love. People often discourage themselves before they even get started because they feel that have to do everything they would be doing if they were recovered NOW. Getting to a place of balance and recovery takes time. It is a process and you don’t know how it will turn out. By taking small steps, one at a time, you can get a better feel for where you want your recovery to go. As you make these changes and you learn to more fully experience your own feelings, you may find that you are headed in a new direction, one you might have missed if you pre-determined what you “should be doing” in advance. So take it slow, consider your options, and don’t overwhelm yourself.
Get Help with Your Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Plan
Binge eating disorder is a serious mental health disorder that requires immediate help from a knowledgeable professional. Fortunately there is hope!
I’m Dr. Amy Boyers, a Clinical Psychologist in Miami who specializes in eating disorder treatment (all types including anorexia treatment, bulimia treatment, and binge eating treatment) and other long term conditions, including addictions, bipolar, and OCD. I offer personalized and sophisticated eating disorder treatment services, individual and family psychotherapy, family member support and education, in-home meal support, cognitive behavioral therapy, anxiety treatment, depression treatment, and much more.
I look forward to helping you obtain a brighter tomorrow.