Exclusive: Treating binge eating disorder takes a comprehensive approach

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: binge eating disorder, comprehensive treatment, addictive behavior

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(NaturalNews) They may only do it one time a week. They may do it three or four times a day. But no matter how often sufferers of binge eating disorder overindulge, all are afflicted with the same addiction, and all require a comprenehsive, supportive treatment plan that focuses on triggers, say professionals who treat them.

In fact, experts say, binge eaters suffer from the same kind of addictive behavior that drives some to abuse drugs and alcohol. What's more, a binge eater -- like anyone else with an addiction -- has to be willing to admit they have a problem.

But once they do, say treatment specialists and other experts, getting the problem under control is well within reach. It just takes time, commitment and, more than anything else, a desire to get better.

What makes for a binge eater?

The first step, says Jennie Kramer, a New York City psychotherapist who is the director and founder of Metro Behavioral Health Associates, as well as co-author of the book Overcoming Binge Eating for Dummies, is accurately identifying the level of disorder.

"There are three types -- emotional eating, compulsive over-eating, and binge eating," she explained to Natural News in an interview. She said emotional eating can be triggered by some sort of episode or occurrence, while "compulsive over-eating is where a person sort of grazes all day, then eats whatever is put in front of them" at dinner/supper time. Binge eating, meanwhile, is most often done in secrecy, she said, and is the much more serious level of disorder. And she said that binge eating can be precipitated by a number of things -- "boredom, emotions, longstanding relationship of emotional trauma, hormonal changes," and other factors.

"Binge Eating Disorder is a maladaptive coping mechanism in response to either stuffing feelings down or a reaction to deprivation in one's life. Often a person will desire large amounts of food to fill an emotional void," psychotherapist Janet Zinn told Natural News. "They become obsessed with eating, and consume in what can be a foggy state. Though BED affects men and women, boys and girls, females seem to suffer more. Women are given mixed messages and they are inclined to binge in private."

The numbers of people suffering from BED and other eating problems are substantial. According to Jodi Rubin, a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and the creator of a curriculum on eating disorders for the Graduate School of Social Work at New York University:

-- 25 million American women are struggling with eating disorders.

-- 7 million American men are struggling with eating disorders.

-- 81 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat.

-- 51 percent of girls between 9 and 10 years old feel better about themselves when they are dieting.

-- 45 percent of boys are unhappy with their bodies.

-- 67 percent of women 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities, like giving an opinion and going to the doctor, because they feel badly about their looks

"BED is very costly, both emotionally and financially," says Kramer. "It can certainly lead to isolation" and can have other social costs, she added.

But there are also physical costs, she noted -- health problems that come with consuming several thousand calories at once, and perhaps several times a day or week.

Treating the disorder

The NYC psychologist and author said that, before she begins treatment, she conducts a detailed "bio-psycho-social interview" aimed at identifying a number of things. There is a nutritional assessment included, and there are questions about lifestyle: Does the patient work nights? Is he/she getting enough sleep? Has he/she experienced major traumatic life events?

Philadelphia-based physician Charlie Seltzer, M.D., who says he is the only board-certified doctor in obesity medicine in the country, takes a similar approach.

"I start with a review of medical, social (with special attention to sleep and stress), exercise and nutrition history," he said in an email.

"The goal is to get to the root cause of the issue, and then to craft a lifestyle that fits," said Kramer, explaining further that it is best for patients to come in "once or twice per week" in the beginning, if at all possible.

Group therapy is particularly important and a tool that Kramer said she utilizes often in her practice. "It is one of the only places where they can talk without being judged," she said, adding that friends and family members who offer help oftentimes wind up being too judgmental, which is counterproductive.

Other therapists talked about their treatment plans.

"One of the most successful treatments for BED is cognitive-behavioral therapy, that is, replacing generally unconscious, irrational beliefs about food, weight, emotions, stress, appearance, and ability to self-care with rational, healthy beliefs," psychologist Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed., told Natural News.

"To heal BED, one must learn to reconnect with one's body, feel entitled to have one's feelings, and be able to express them. In addition, distinguishing between physical hunger and emotional voids is key," added Zinn.

'You have to want to get better'

Jennifer Kelman, a licensed master social worker and certified professional coach, says that all eating disorders, including binge eating disorders, are not about food or weight.

"They are about an emotional disconnection to the self," she told Natural News. "When there is this emotional disconnect and feelings come up, they have the potential to overwhelm the individual. Binge eating is a way to 'stuff' these emotions down in an effort to avoid feeling them altogether."

She adds that eating disorders are best treated by specialists in the field, because they have a unique understanding of all aspects of the problem.

"The goal in therapy, and it can take some time, is to reconnect the individuals to their emotional life and let them experience emotion without using food as a way to avoid those emotions," she said. "Recovery is not about never having these moments again, but recognizing the triggers and feeling and dealing with the emotions so that food and body weight preoccupation don't take over."

Jared Scherz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Mt. Laurel, N.J., said in an email to Natural News: "Therapy with me is about a relationship in which the therapist cares for, lends their awareness to, and helps to mobilize the client's resources. Gestalt therapy is about helping a person become more whole, by bringing the parts together to form a more cohesive whole. For people with eating disorders, this generally means helping them to incorporate their body, as opposed to treating it like an unwelcomed intruder."

Kramer says that "early intervention" works best. She also said that, because an eating disorder is an addiction, there can be relapses, even after successful treatment.

But, she added, there are varying degrees of relapse. For instance, a once-off binge might be just that -- a one-time occurrence. But a full-on return to a patient's old overindulgent ways is what she and other experts would consider more of a setback.


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