What is Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and what are eating disorder professionals saying about overcoming binge eating? I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) conference.  This event was exciting for the eating disorder community considering that Binge Eating Disorder (BED) accounts for the greatest number of people with an eating disorder and yet it is often undiagnosed and under treated.

Many of the speakers at this year’s conference were overcoming binge eating themselves, therefore bringing much personal passion and energy with them.  As a professional who treat all kinds of eating disorders, it was great to see attention brought specifically to BED, and to be able to take home new tools and treatment options for clients who are overcoming binge eating.

I want to share some of the main concepts I took away from the BED conference because I think it can help most of us both in our professional and personal lives:

What is binge eating?

For those of you unfamiliar with a binge, according to the DSM-IV, binge eating disorder is characterized by several behavioral and emotional signs, which include recurrent episodes of at least twice a week for six months, eating a larger amount of food than normal during a short time frame (any two-hour period), and lack of control over eating during the binge episode (feeling you can’t stop eating).

What causes a binge?

So what causes a binge?  DIET + STRESS + PALATABLE FOOD.  Now of course not everyone that goes on a diet ends up bingeing.  There are environmental and genetic components as well.

Overcoming binge eating by ditching diets

We live in a culture that celebrates thin bodies, weight loss and dieting. We are exposed to diet messages throughout our daily lives in many ways of which we may not even be aware. A main take-home message was how brutal our society, and especially our media, can be with unnecessary attention placed on the idea of this pursuit of thinness and the seductiveness of a diet, that a diet can solve any problem. This is craziness and yet it makes sense because this is one component of what creates a binge. Recognizing and rejecting diet messages can be an important first step towards making peace with food and your body in order to stop bingeing.

Dr. Cynthia Bulik

Dr. Cynthia Bulik described our society well.  She said currently, society tells us “To be happy and healthy, I must lose weight!”  What we should be thinking is

“Health and happiness come as a result of developing healthy, sustainable, daily practices around Emotional Health, Physical Health, Nutritional Health, and Spiritual Health”. 

What a great statement!!  I challenge us all to say this to ourselves each day.

I think we really need to be focusing on the messages our children are receiving.  “Actually I felt pretty good about my body until 6th grade.  But everyone else hated theirs, so I thought I should too.” (quote from 22 yo bulimic).  Another quote that stuck with me: “Why should I eat healthy if it doesn’t make me thin?” (14 yo girl).  These comments are heart-breaking and yet they are not uncommon.

Kathy Kramer, LCSW

Kathy Kramer, LCSW discussed shifting some of our old paradigms to avoid BED.  An old paradigm is “If fatter people feel bad about their bodies, this can help motivate them to achieve weight loss goals.”  Kathy shared with us that our paradigm should be “Interventions should strive to enhance body satisfaction and avoid messages likely to increase body dissatisfaction.  Body dissatisfaction is not only a primary risk factor for eating disorders, but predicts disordered eating, weight gain and poorer overall health.”  I agree with Kathy, who also says “…it is clear that interventions should support a new paradigm that supports


Overcoming binge eating with stress management

The second component to a binge is stress.  We can’t eliminate stress, but we can manage our stress.  One aspect of stress management is using healthy and appropriate coping mechanisms.  Often food is used.

Dr. Bulik emphasized how we need to identify our feeling and couple it with the appropriate response.  Years ago, when we were tired, we SLEPT.  When we were sad, we CRIED.  When we were bored, we chose an ACTIVITY.  When we were anxious, we RELAXED.  When we were angry, we may have YELLED.  When we were hungry, we ATE.  Now, when we are tired, we EAT; sad we EAT; bored, we EAT; anxious, we EAT; angry, we EAT.  We give food so many “jobs”.  We expect food to relax us, occupy our time, be our friend, numb us, stimulate us, the list goes on…  Next time you find yourself reaching for food, ask yourself, “What am I asking this food to do for me?”

Dr. Michelle May

Dr. Michelle May says this is not about whether you are allowed to eat, but deciding why you are eating .  I love a quote from her book Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat, “When I’m hungry I eat what I love.  When I’m bored, I do something I love.  When I’m lonely, I connect with someone I love.  When I feel sad, I remember that I am loved.”

Dr. Margo Maine

The last topic I wanted to discuss was from Margo Maine, PhD, FAED’s session.  She specifically spoke about two times in a women’s life where eating disorders and disordered eating are prevalent, which is during puberty and menopause.  I love how she explained that these are times of peace, that we cannot fight our bodies.

Some statistics that Margo provided:

  • The average girl gains 10 inches and 40-50 lbs during puberty.
  • Most double their weight by the time they finish puberty.
  • Mature adult women’s body will have about 22 percent body fat-enough for an ovulating female to survive famine for nine months.
  • Before puberty, a girl’s body has about 12 percent body fat.
  • Transition through menopause, average gain 8 to 12 pounds.
  • Hormonal shifts generate more fat cells which produce estrogen to maintain bone density, lower risk for osteoporosis and help manage menopause symptoms.  These are all AMAZING facts and yet why are we messing our bodies up???

Overcoming binge eating through body respect

So when I drove him that Saturday from the conference back to see my family, one of the biggest take-home messages was to love our bodies and love ourselves no matter what!  We only get one body and one journey through life.  Instead of asking “What weight are you?” ask “How healthy are you?” When body love feels too hard or out of reach, try body respect instead. You don’t have to love your body to respect all of the wonderful things it does to keep us alive and able to experience the joys of life.

Are you or a loved one struggling with binge eating disorder? We can help. Contact us today at 301-474-2499.

Blog updated May 2020.

Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients.  Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and  Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.