Are you Eating Well? Let’s Talk about Emotional Eating and Binge Eating

By Hritika Bhatnagar

An informal term for the practice of eating in response to one's emotions is emotional eating. You probably can think of at least one of the many clichés about opening a bag of chips after a stressful workday or eating a pint of ice cream to help one feel better.

This term has been tried to be defined more precisely by researchers so that it can be evaluated and studied in a variety of lab and real-world settings. The Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire (DEBQ) is one of several questionnaires that can be used to evaluate emotional eating. However, the question of how to define emotional eating and the behaviours that fall under that umbrella is a topic of ongoing debate in the field.

For instance, despite the fact that a lot of scales only focus on eating in response to negative emotions, it is still unclear whether eating in response to positive emotions should also be evaluated. To determine whether these two behaviours are related or distinct, research is ongoing.

The only one of the three that has a connection to a diagnostic category in the DSM, the manual that is used to classify mental health disorders, is binge eating. In the DSM, binge eating is distinguished from other forms of overeating by two main characteristics.

First and foremost, one must consume an "unusually large" amount of food within two hours. Second, the individual must experience a sense of loss of control over their eating during this eating episode, or the feeling that they cannot stop, even if they wanted to. In addition to these two requirements, three or more of the following are required such as eating more quickly than usual, eating until you feel uncomfortable full, eating a lot of food when you're not hungry, eating alone out of embarrassment or shame about one's eating habits, and feeling disgusted or guilty about oneself after a binge.

Importantly, like all mental health disorders, binge eating can become a disorder if the person is upset about what they are doing. Additionally, it must take place at least once per week for three months. After a formal clinical evaluation, psychologists, psychiatrists, and family doctors typically are the only professionals qualified to make a diagnosis in Canada.

When Does Emotional Eating Become A Disorder Of Eating?

A serious mental health condition, binge-eating disorder involves eating a lot of food in a short amount of time. 2013 saw the addition of it to the DSM-V. In the United States, the mental health treatment community is increasingly concerned about BED, which is now recognized as the most prevalent eating disorder.

Dissatisfaction with one's weight is often the first sign of a binge eating disorder, and binge eating episodes are often sparked by attempts to lose weight or public food restrictions. The person feels out of control and unable to stop eating during binge episodes after they have become routine. An emotional eating disorder is not always associated with emotional eating.

A clear indication that a binge eating disorder is possible is when a person who may occasionally overeat when stressed or down begins to feel the need to binge on food on a regular basis. Numerous physical effects result from BED; many of the obesity-related complications, including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, can result from binge eating disorder if it is not treated. In addition, people with BED are more likely to suffer from self-harm, depression, and substance abuse.

Emotional eating is not an eating disorder in and of itself; however, it can be a warning sign that a person is at risk for one and may be a symptom of an eating disorder that calls for professional treatment.

What Kinds Of Treatments Are Available For Binge Eating Disorder?

Treatment centres for binge-eating disorders provide a variety of treatments to address both the emotional and physical aspects of the disorder. As previously stated, a person's treatment requirements may dictate drastically different levels of care. There are certain aspects of treatment that are constant regardless of the level of care. Treatment for binge eating disorders may include the following:

Treatment for co-occurring disorders: A dual diagnosis is when a person with an eating disorder also has another mental illness like anxiety or PTSD. If not treated, these disorders can also contribute to emotional eating. Dual diagnosis eating disorder treatment programs address both the eating disorder and the co-occurring mental disorder simultaneously. When both disorders are addressed, a person is more likely to recover fully from each disorder and to maintain that recovery over time.

Nutritional restoration helps a person who has become malnourished or experienced an imbalance as a result of disordered eating behaviours meet their nutritional needs through nutrition education and programming. The individual may benefit from learning about and putting into practice balanced meal planning strategies during sessions with a registered dietician or nutritionist. This is an additional crucial aspect of long-term recovery from an eating disorder.

Individual psychotherapy sessions and Binge eating disorder therapy assist in addressing the client's emotional state. Using cognitive retraining methods like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy), the person might learn to recognize the thoughts and feelings that lead to binge eating episodes. Additionally, they learn more adaptable strategies for overcoming negative emotional states.

Sessions in group therapy: A lot of people who have completed eating disorder treatment programs say that the most beneficial and meaningful type of therapy they receive is group therapy. Talking about a disorder with friends and peers who have been there and done that can be liberating and therapeutic. Typically, group therapy is offered at every level of care.