What is the Link Between Binge Eating Disorder and Trauma?
What is Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder is officially diagnosed in the DSM by meeting the criteria for at least 3 of the symptoms listed below:
- Eating at a rapid pace
- Consuming large amounts of food when not feeling hungry
- Choosing to eat alone out of shame or embarrassment
- Continuing to eat until one becomes uncomfortably full
- Feeling guilty or disgusted with oneself
- Going through at least one binging episode a week over a period of three months
What is Not Considered Binge Eating?
On a side note, binge eating disorder is NOT having a “cheat day,” over-indulging on a special holiday or occasion, eating too much one night at dinner, having ice cream before bed, or sometimes eating past feeling full because something tastes really good. A lot of times people judge these behaviors and feel guilty about them, but food is meant to be enjoyed! The goal of eating disorder treatment is always to live without restrictions and enjoy things that aren’t harming you in moderation.
The main thing I am looking at as an eating disorder specialist when sitting with a client is the numbing component that the food offers, the medical issues that they are experiencing as a result of their relationship with food, and the sense of shame that the individual feels after the fact.
Eating disorders are addictions in the form of food and fixation on the body. While a lot of attention is given to addictions to chemicals (and rightfully so!), eating disorders are actually extremely dangerous and deserve more attention. Every 52 minutes, someone new dies of an eating disorder. Yet, only 3 out of 8 people who meet the criteria diagnostically for an eating disorder ever seek out treatment. We have to make a change!
Myths About Eating Disorders
There are a lot of misconceptions about eating disorders. A lot of people falsely recognize only anorexia, which is a severe restriction of food. The poster child for eating disorders has been a too-thin white girl in a ballet outfit. But the world of eating disorders is so much larger than this. It impacts every color, every gender, and every demographic, and it looks very different for each individual. It includes restriction, eating objects that are not intended for consumption, abusing laxatives, purging, over-exercising, steroid use, stimulant use for weight loss purposes, body dysmorphia, severe dieting, and the list goes on and on. Essentially, you’re looking for the individual’s relationship with food and their body to severely impair areas of their life and become consuming in their thought process.
Eating Disorder Treatment
In other addictive behaviors, the formula is more simplified than with eating disorders. For instance, if someone is an alcoholic, they should go to AA and therapy and never drink again. It’s black and white. Food is different and treatment exists all in the gray. We have to eat to survive and we have to make choices about what and how much we consume several times a day. Therefore, treatment plans have to be entirely customized for each individual to counteract the negative behaviors that they have been engaging in.
Binge eating disorders are their own monster for several reasons when it comes to treatment. Food is the first substance most of us have access to that is able to be abused. Many people learn that food provides comfort and a lot of our family and social traditions exist around eating. I’m fact, in a lot of cultures, feeding someone IS how love is displayed. Simultaneously, we are given so many messages about what our bodies are supposed to look like, which leads to shame and hiding behaviors around food. When it crosses over to excessive use of food in secrecy and shame is when it can develop an addictive pattern and become problematic.
The Link to Trauma
But why does it cross over? Very rarely in my career of treating individuals with eating disorders have I come across someone who does not also have some form of trauma. With binge eating disorders specifically, my therapist antenna perks up and immediately starts looking for past trauma, whether a singular event or more insidious events that have created complex trauma. My experience has been that there is either sexual trauma or deep-seated depression. In treating the underlying causes of eating disorders and getting to the root of the trauma, two different patterns emerge:
The individual was the victim of some kind of sexual or physical trauma and begins to abuse food because subconsciously the weight gain allows them to feel less attractive, or more specifically, provides an actual physical barrier between them and the world.
The individual has some sort of developmental trauma or complex trauma that contributes to feelings of unworthiness or hopelessness. Food, particularly highly processed and unhealthy foods, when abused, can provide a coma-like response. One that allows them to “check out” of their current reality. The shame that this person feels after the fact feels “deserved” because of their lack of self-worth. Essentially this person’s relationship with food becomes a form of self-harm.
As an eating disorder specialist, getting serious about learning the most effective trauma techniques quickly became a top priority. This is why I have spent a great deal of time becoming trained in EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). It is the most rapid and effective way that I have found to help a person recover from past events that are fueling current behaviors. And I have been so impressed by the work I have witnessed.
There are many valuable interventions for treating eating disorders, all of which we currently utilize and believe in at Mangrove Therapy Group. However, if we stop at just getting eating patterns under control, therapy is incomplete from our perspective. As with all mental health, real healing comes from addressing the root of the problem. This can be developmental trauma, early childhood beliefs, family of origin dysfunction, and their relationship with themselves and their thought life. If you or someone you love is struggling with your relationship with food, please allow yourself complete healing by getting to the root of the problem.
Begin Eating Disorder Treatment in Delray Beach, FL
At Mangrove Therapy Group, we believe it’s possible for you to resolve your trauma symptoms and cope with the effects of eating disorders. Our team of therapists would be happy to support you from our Delray Beach, FL-based practice and across the state. You can start your therapy journey, by following these simple steps:
- Contact Mangrove Therapy Group
- Meet with a caring therapist
- Start addressing the core issues of your eating disorder!
Other Services Offered with Mangrove Therapy
Eating disorder treatment isn’t the only service offered at Mangrove Therapy. Our therapists are experts in treating addiction, depression, body image issues, anger management, anxiety, low self-esteem, group therapy, and much more. We are also happy to offer DBT, CBT, and substance use disorders. Please feel free to learn more about how we can support you by giving us a call or visiting our blog page today!