Eating Disorders, Binge Eating Disorder, Blog

How Eating Disorders Affect Families

During the first few months of the year, diet culture flares its’ bells and whistles, prompting consumers to “re-set,” “detox from the holidays,” and that darn phrase “new year, new you.” The 648-billion-dollar diet industry issues their promises to better life, health, and happiness, and well-intended consumers buy in. For some, it works…. until it doesn’t. In some studies, nearly 77–95% of dieters regain the weight initially lost, and ~30–60% gain even more than their original starting weight. The diet/wellness plans are not sustainable. The diet is “broken,” the feelings of failure creeps in, weight fluctuates, and the consumer feels it is their fault.

What is binge eating?

For many, dieting begins of a pattern of dietary restriction or rigidity, followed by episodes of chaotic or binge eating symptoms. Binge eating is eating objectively large amounts of food with a sense of lack of control. This is different than eating a large meal or an extra helping of food at Thanksgiving dinner.

So what are the symptoms of binge eating? According to the DSM-V, binge eating symptoms usually include three of the following:

  1. Eating much more rapidly than normal
  2. Eating until uncomfortably full
  3. Eating large amounts even when not hungry
  4. Eating alone based on embarrassment
  5. Feeling disgusted/depressed/ashamed after eating

Does this sound familiar? I am here to tell you, it is not “your fault” or that you “didn’t have the willpower.” Your body’s internal wisdom is trying to protect and save itself. Let me explain.

What happens to your body during a diet?

It is important to note, dieting is not just “fad diets.” Oxford American Dictionary defines dieting as “restrict[ing] oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.” There is a “dieting cycle” that happens with almost every dieting behavior. What occurs is really our body’s resilient attempt to show up and protect itself to keep functioning the best it can. It starts with dietary restriction/elimination and sometimes weight loss occurs.

First, the body goes through metabolic shifts to preserve limited nutrition for our brains, heart, and lungs to function. Then, the brain begins to think about food more frequently. Internal cues of hunger increase, signaling that the body needs more nutrition. This is often where binge eating symptoms sneak in. The body has been deprived for so long that of course it craves satisfying food in large quantities.

Then, diet script comes in “this can be my cheat day” or “my cheat meal.” A deprivation effect kicks in, the “last supper mentality” prompts large quantities of food consumed because “I have to get back on track tomorrow.” Because of significant hunger, or the “break” in rigid eating plans, rapid intake occurs, followed often by guilt, shame, hopelessness, and feelings of failure.

Dieting and Eating Disorder Behaviors

Not all dieters have binge eating symptoms, but 30% of dieters will go on to develop eating disorder behaviors of some sort and 95% of people with an eating disorder have dieting history. Binge eating symptoms are present in several eating disorder diagnoses:

  • anorexia-binge/purge type
  • bulimia nervosa
  • binge eating disorder
  • and sometimes OSFED

Know that there is no shame in having reached for a diet for hope. Of course you have. It is all around you with glitter and rainbows promising that which it cannot sustain. But, good news: there is hope and another way of making peace with food. Your body holds a lot of wisdom and an eating disorder support team can walk with you to healing your relationship with food and your body.

Getting Help

Individuals who struggle with binge eating symptoms can be all shapes, sizes, and genders. If binge eating is something you struggle with or if this dieting cycle sounds familiar, reach out to a dietitian who is specialized in eating disorders (A CEDRD, or certified eating disorder registered dietitian) and therapist can help.

Alsana can help you heal from binge eating disorder in our outpatient, day patient (partial hospitalization), and residential treatment centers. Call (888) 822-8938 to speak with a master’s level clinician about where you are on your journey. We also invite you to join our weekly online support group and experience the support and encouragement of a community. We look forward to speaking with you soon!


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