A little-known risk of warmer weather.
The temperature outside is rising and there are clear signs that summer is almost here. Soon it will once again be time to put on tank tops, shorts, and bathing suits for setting off to the pool or the beach. Although an exciting time, for some this time of year can be dreadful as the thought of wearing such things, and revealing more body, produces many negative thoughts and feelings. The majority of women are unhappy with their bodies in some way. Truth is, only a small portion of women have that “ideal” body demonstrated on TV, in magazines, or on social media. The rest may be left wondering, “Why can’t I look like that? What am I doing wrong?” Questions like these lead to feelings of shame, self-doubt, anxiety, and frustration, to name a few. In attempts to rectify the situation, many turn to dieting, which could include restricting amount of food, eliminating certain types of foods, or other compensatory behaviors such as purging, laxative use or over exercising. Unfortunately, in extreme cases, these behaviors can progress into clinical eating disorders. In this entry, I would like to highlight Binge Eating Disorder (BED), as it is the most common eating disorder (according to the National Eating Disorders Association) and is not as well-known as Anorexia and Bulimia.
Binge Eating Disorder became an official diagnosis with the publication of the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the guide used by healthcare providers in the U.S. It states that for a diagnosis, one must engage in recurrent and persistent episodes of binge eating, which are associated with at least three of the following: eating much more rapidly than normal, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food without hunger, eating alone due to embarrassment, and feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty. For a diagnosis, binges must occur at least once a week for three months.
Typical binges occur within a short amount of time (2-4 hours) and the amount of food is more than what the average person would consume. Many individuals report feeling compelled to eat and that they lost control. Although the actual type of food consumed does not impact whether the episode is considered a binge, more often than not, the food tends to be “forbidden food” or something one personally labels as “bad.” This could be sweets, fried foods, carbohydrates, or whatever else diet culture is pushing us to stay away from at the current time.
Fortunately, for anyone who finds themself struggling with BED, help is available. There are many clinicians and dieticians that specialize in working with clients who binge eat and struggle with their relationship to food and self-image. One approach to treatment is Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which is an evidence-based treatment that focuses on how thoughts influence feelings and behaviors. Step-by-step CBT guides have been created to work specifically with BED and include techniques such as food monitoring, identifying alternative activities to engage in when feeling an urge to binge, and exposure to avoided food exercises. CBT can also address concerns about body image and weight. Other approaches to helping individuals work on their relationship with food and body image include mindful eating, intuitive eating, or attuned eating. These methods promote listening to internal physical and emotional signals for determining needs for food.
Disordered eating, unhealthy relationships with food, and poor body image are problems that impact so many women and men of all ages and sizes. If you believe that you struggle with BED or feel burdened by your concerns about food or body shape, please take advantage of the help that is available to you.
Dr. Andrea Tesher, Psy.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Lukin Center for Psychotherapy, specializing in the treatment of adults with anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, difficulties regulating emotions, relationship problems and women's issues.
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