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Updated: March 6, 2014 17:55 IST

Don’t bring on the binge!

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Mindless overeating is hard on all body systems
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Mindless overeating is hard on all body systems

Psychological support and diet management will go a long way in helping people deal with binge eating

Binge eating disorder is typically defined as compulsive overeating, where people eat excessive amounts of food uncontrollably, followed by feelings of guilt. Food is misused as a mechanism of compensation for an unmet emotional need or negative emotion. Binging can be a result of stress, boredom, anger, low self-esteem, body-image issues, missing meals, or consequence of a diet.

Some patients try to hide their binging in front of friends and family, as they don’t want to feel embarrassed, or expose their problem. They secretly gorge on large amounts of food or small amounts of calorie-rich food throughout the day. Constant thoughts of food reflexively make them reach out to food, which becomes the singular highlight of their day, making them feel unhappy later on.

Impact on body and mind

Mindless overeating is hard on all body systems. Binge eating causes dysregulation in the mind and body, as the brain doesn’t receive the right messages on the quantity of food that is actually required. People consume food, which is typically sweet or salty, with a lot of calories, leading to nutritional deficiencies, less alertness and a slow metabolism rate. The victim becomes an eating machine, which causes distress and weight gain.

Bhakti S., senior dietician at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai, says, “It causes a lot of emotional and psychological changes. Binge eating gives a euphoric feeling and results in a temporary release from stress, diversion from feelings of sadness, loneliness, shame, anger or fear. A long-term untreated binge eating disorder can cause many medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, cardiac disease, hypertension, kidney diseases, arthritis, eventually even leading to sleep apnea.”

“The worse a binge eater feels about himself / herself or his / her appearance, the more they use food to cope with it. It’s a vicious cycle: eating to feel better causes more weight gain, leading to guilt, and eventually returning to food for further relief and emotional compensation,” she adds.

This cycle has to be broken. “To start with, get mindful of the urge to eat. Pay attention to the urge. Pause just a little before putting in the first mouthful. Breathe. Pay attention to the way in which you feel the urge in your body. Don’t berate yourself about it. Forgive yourself for an episode when it does happen, so that it doesn’t lead to additional emotional turmoil,” suggests Sadia Raval, founder and chief psychologist, Inner Space Counselling Centre, Mumbai.

Binge eating disorder is a psychological disorder that requires a team approach sometimes — with a psychologist and a dietician. “First, stop dieting and starvation techniques. Hunger and deprivation are huge triggers for binge eating. It is also important to remove tempting treats from home. Eating regular meals can also help overcome binge eating. This behaviour keeps the blood sugar level steady, and can help alleviate cravings, prevent binge eating in the process. Lastly, learn how to manage stress by incorporating activities such as exercise, meditation, and writing. Joining support groups by health professionals helps keep binging in check,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, celebrity dietician, New York.

Getting involved in activities to fight boredom and finding non-food boosters such as music, walks or sports help. Support from family members and friends plays a major role in helping these patients. Lecturing, getting upset, or issuing ultimatums to a binge eater will only increase stress and make the situation worse. Consulting a dietician, who will help shed the extra weight in a healthy manner, will have a good effect on the patient, and help him / her lead a normal life.

Cognitive therapy

Therapy depends on the severity and frequency of binge eating — varying from simple awareness sessions to counselling. Behavioural and cognitive therapies, which focus on the impaired behaviour and thoughts inside the head of a binge eater, are crucial. Awareness of why and how one uses food to deal with stress, negativity and emotions, is important, as well as techniques on how to avoid triggers. Dr. Raval says, “Cognitive behavioural therapies are typically used to cure compulsive eating. In my opinion, an ideal approach would be a combination of mindfulness-based approaches, emotion-focussed approaches and somatic psychotherapy.”

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