Like clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder, binge eating disorder (BED) is a mental illness that is totally misunderstood by many people. Sadly, some still think that a person with BED is merely gluttonous and isn't capable of managing their eating habits. (A guy once who said to me that a woman with BED just needs to "stop eating so many muffins." I made it a point to never be in the same room with him ever again.)
Anyone suffering from BED knows that this disease is about way more than self-control. The American Psychiatric Association labels BED as an eating disorder alongside the likes of anorexia and bulimia. It affects more than seven million Americans and its physical consequences include unhealthy weight gain, diabetes, and kidney failure. It's often linked to other mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. The stigma that still exists around BED (and all eating disorders, for that matter) can feel suffocating, but there are people and organizations out there working to demolish the taboo that still lingers.
In addition to seeking sustainable treatment, there are a lot of small things people with BED can do on the daily to cope with their illness. Even a habit as small as talking with your friend can help you manage what would otherwise feel like a monster of a disease. Bustle spoke with Julie Friedman, Ph.D., licensed health psychologist and Vice President of the CORE (Compulsive Overeating Recovery Effort) Program at the Colorado based Eating Recovery Center. Dr. Friedman says, "Many... patients with binge eating disorder are really isolated. You can't recover alone and you can't recover in a bubble."
Take it from someone who has battled BED since her high school days and has gone through several different kinds of treatments: the littlest habits can be the difference between feeling totally out of control and feeling like BED is as manageable as anything else in life. Here are eight habits that make binge eating disorder worse.
1. Not Planning Any Meals Ahead Of Time
While some of your coworkers can afford to wing it when every lunch break rolls around, it's not in your best interest to follow their lead. Dr. Friedman tells Bustle that, when you don't plan your food beforehand, "you are forced to buy meals in the moment, or impulsively, which allows for more emotional decision-making." As soon as you're consumed by strong emotions and even stronger hunger, you are more likely to spiral out of control.
If you know you have a busy week ahead, carve out some time on Sunday evening to map out what you'll be eating for the next five days. Even better, cook some yummy dishes so your fridge is full of leftovers that are divided up into ready-to-go tupperwares.
2. Always Ignoring Cravings
While it's super important to have a well-rounded, healthy diet, you shouldn't constantly give sugar the cold shoulder. By denying yourself what you're truly craving — or thinking that all cravings are bad things — you'll build up such a strong desire for whatever it is that you'll probably end up bingeing on it later.
Dr. Friedman says you're much better off answering your craving as soon as it pays you a visit. However, instead of buying a whole bag of Hershey Kisses to eat at home by yourself, call up a friend and go out for a bougie piece of chocolate cake together. At the Eating Recovery Center, Dr. Friedman tells Bustle that they actually make a planned event out of cravings so that they aren't acted on later by impulse.
3. Eating While Multitasking
Studies have shown that mindful eating is a holistic therapy that produces concrete results for people with BED. One in particular found that individuals who regularly practiced mindfulness techniques and developed a new awareness around food saw their bingeing episodes go from four a week to less than 1.5. Speaking from personal experience, mindful eating has helped me a great deal. I can identify now when I'm full, when I'm hungry, and when I'm just bored and want to fill the space with munching on a snack.
However, it's impossible to be truly conscious about what you're currently eating if your eyes are always glued to the television or your smartphone when you sit down for dinner. Dr. Friedman says, "If you know that is your pattern, then you have to change that environment." Have a friend over to eat with you or make a commitment to only eat your meals at the kitchen table.
4. Not Getting Enough Sleep
According to Dr. Friedman, "Skimping on sleep or anything that interferes with good sleep can make it harder to manage binge eating disorder." Catching those Zzz's is crucial to staying healthy and having a clear mind throughout the day. Besides just not getting to bed on time, Dr. Friedman says habits like bringing electronics into bed and taking work into your room will mess with your precious beauty sleep.
5. Skipping Breakfast
Yes, there are some pretty thick myths about eating breakfast that need to be nixed, like how it boosts your metabolism so high that you lose weight at lightning speed. Not true. What is true about breakfast, though, is that a full meal in the a.m. encourages you to move more throughout the day, and snack less. Both of these pack a big punch in the fight against BED episodes. So set aside some time in your morning routine to cook up that breakfast. Your energy levels will remain high and you'll feel more prepared to ward off bingeing.
6. Not Choosing Workouts You Genuinely Enjoy
"Movement and being more active helps with the urge to binge, but many people think exercise must be weight loss focused or really intense, commonly leading them to give up quickly and easily," Dr. Friedman tells Bustle. Instead of regularly opting in for the kind of workouts you dislike, explore the other options out there. It doesn't even have to be a traditional form of exercise. As long as you lock in a sustainable form of physical activity that you actually enjoy, you'll get what you need.
Studies show that exercises that don't hinge on weight loss have some lasting psychological benefits for people with mental illness. Researchers at the University of Florida studied 539 college-aged students and found that working out regularly boosted their self-esteem and positively affected their eating pathologies.
7. Forgetting To Make It A Priority To Relax & Have Fun
All work and no play does worse things than make you a dull person. It could actually stunt your attempts to properly treat your eating disorder. Dr. Friedman says participating in pleasurable activities every so often is crucial to managing BED, especially if it means you get to spend time with a community of supportive folks. Without a healthy social life you're more likely to fall into a depressive state that triggers bingeing.
Enjoying yourself doesn't always have to be done with a group of people, either. Sometimes the most relaxing and restorative thing for me is to do something all by myself, like going for a hike or thrift shopping. There will never be one prescription that works for everyone, so feel free to experiment.
8. Keeping Binge-Eating A Secret
The shame that comes with bingeing is hard to shake. It can make you feel like a freak, someone your friends would certainly abandon if they knew what you were capable of. But if you're surrounded by the right people, they actually want to hear about your struggles, and they probably want to help you get through them.
Have a chat with someone in your personal life that you trust. Tell them what you need and what you hate hearing. Then you can call 'em up when you feel especially alone and hopeless. They'll be a solid support.
Want more women's health coverage? Check out Bustle's new podcast, Honestly Though, which tackles all the questions you're afraid to ask.