Let us get one thing straight, weight is not an indication for the severity of an eating disorder. It is merely an indicator as to whether clinical interventions are required. Many of the people I know who struggle with severe eating disorders receive very little support because they are managing to maintain a weight that does not fall into the danger zone.
Weight however, it not really an indication of health. The damage caused by eating disorders can be irreparable, not only physically but mentally too. One disorder that has continually been on the rise, which effects nearly as many men as it does women, is binge eating disorder (BED). BED affects three times the number of people diagnosed with severe anorexia and bulimia combined.
It is estimated that 1 in 50 people suffer BED, 1 in 3 of those suffering consider taking their own life and only 1 in 4 people suffering BED receive treatment. The impact of this disorder can cause the sufferer to withdraw from social events and other activities.
So what can we do to ensure those suffering BED do not feel isolated and alone? As with the better known Anorexia and Bulimia we can start by educating ourselves a little. Like the other two, BED is not about the food, it's not about the weight, it's about what it does to the brain.
The feeling of fullness can feel almost like comfort but don't mistake those suffering BED as needy. My experience couldn't be further from the truth! People with BED are usually high achievers, they perform stressful jobs, they are the ones who appear to have their shit together despite spinning a million plates and they rarely ask for help. Honestly, it is no wonder they seek a reprieve from their own minds! They are so busy supporting others that they neglect themselves. The fact of the matter is though, we all need time out and we all need to ask for support from time to time. Our brains are not designed to be "comfortable" but they are equally not designed to be in a constant state of overwhelm and stress.
Binging is a distraction from all of the other messages our brains are trying to process. We can focus solely on the task at hand, we can entirely lose control, let loose and for a short time, we feel better for it, we feel comforted by it. It is no different from other tools we use e.g, alcohol, cigarettes, Amazon! Our brains find something that works and before we know it, the habit is so strong it almost becomes a compulsion.
But then the guilt and shame set in, these two, for me, are those most dangerous and uncomfortable emotions of all, they create a sense of self loathing. As a result often people who binge will punish themselves by restricting their intake for a considerable period of time causing low energy, poor cognition, and almost a shock reaction for the body. This is likely to lead to another binge, where the body receives often calorie dense food which is difficult for the body to process. This surge of chemicals impacts physiological and cognitive function.
Healthy bodies can naturally maintain their metabolism with a variation of around 500Kcal. What that means is. if, on the odd occasion, we exceed our usual daily intake by 500Kcal, our weight will not be affected. If we go under by 500Kcal we are likely to feel naturally more hungry the next day. If we regularly change out calorific intake our bodies cannot keep this up and essentially goes haywire! Sugar is very bad for cognitive function and thus negatively impacts our mental health. It's also addictive, by frequently consuming high sugar foods, we develop a dependancy on it. We are also likely to suffer untold issues linked to digestion, some of which will be irreversible.
So what is the answer? Anyone who knows me will know that I do not offer a quick solution, there is no such thing! Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is commonly used to treat ED and I certainly agree there is a place for CBT. That said, CBT is problem focussed and my experience tells me that, even if we fight one ED, by using a problem based approach, we often replace one problem with another. So we need to start from the very beginning, strip down to our foundations. Find what makes us us!? What are our core values and beliefs? Are they reliable? Where is the evidence that supports them? Are we living in cohesion with our values and beliefs? What thoughts are linked to our negative behaviours? How can we create distance between the thought and our immediate reaction? How can we slow our brain down enough to process the thought, fact check it, then find a healthy and positive reaction to it? I'll tell you how.....By relinquishing some of those standards, by creating time for self care and self awareness, by trusting that at your core, you know what is best for you. It's time to start being your authentic self, stop caring about the judgement of others, and Quieten Your Mind. Only then can you achieve true contentment without ED.