Binge eating may be related to childhood experiences

NEDIC Director, Merryl Bear talks about the difficulties faced by binge-eaters in an article published by Canadian Military Family Magazine. Read the full story here.

By Jean Gottleib, Health Reporter
Canadian Military Magazine, February 2012 (NewsCanada)

(NC)—Binge eating is one of the most common forms of disordered eating and, according to experts, perhaps the least understood.

A binge eating disorder is not occasionally over-eating to the point of discomfort, as is often done at celebrations. People with binge eating disorder may consume up to 20, 000 calories in a sitting, using food in this way to soothe or punish themselves multiple times a week. They struggle with feelings of guilt, self-disgust, and depression. They worry about what the compulsive eating will do to their bodies and beat themselves up for their lack of self-control, but feel unable to control their eating.

Harsh self-criticism learned from mistreatment in childhood has been found to make individuals more vulnerable to developing binge eating disorder. Children who experience excessive criticism, repeated insults and/or some type of emotional, physical or sexual abuse may develop a similarly critical view of themselves, say researcher Dr Dunkley and colleagues at McGill University, Montreal, and Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven. Individuals learn to binge eat as a way to soothe or punish themselves in response to difficult-to-manage feelings.

Men make up approximately 40% of individuals with binge eating disorder. Among individuals seeking treatment for obesity, 20% to 50% are affected by binge eating problems.

Little is known about how big a problem binge eating is among children. However, research links children who learn to be constantly and harshly critical of themselves, overly concerned about the opinions of others, and difficulties in regulating emotional responses. Binge eating becomes a way to temporarily numb painful emotions.

“The difficulty for someone who binge-eats is that it feels completely out of their ability to control,” says Merryl Bear, director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, Toronto, “Because of the shame, as well as the difficulty in overcoming long-standing emotional issues, it's important to break the silence and find professional help.”

It is encouraging, Bear notes, that more therapists listed with the National Eating Disorder Information Centre are identifying and providing help for binge eating. The treatments available for individuals who binge-eat are increasing with the adaptation of therapies for other eating disorders, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (ITP) and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) among others.

Whatever kind of therapy is used, Bear says, an important goal is to find and use compassion for the ideas, emotions and events of which one is most ashamed and to develop healthy ways to nurture oneself both physically and emotionally.