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Why Dieting and Restricting Are Ineffective Tools for Binge Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States and it affects 3.5% of women and 2% of men and up to 1.6% of adolescents. Binge eating is know to lead to the development of unwanted weight gain, compulsive overeating and even obesity resulting in feelings of guilt and further negative emotions potentially causing co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression.

 Defining binge eating disorder

Binge-eating disorder is characterized by eating an excessive amount of food within a 2-hour time period and is associated with an extreme lack of self-control and shame during this episode. It is possible for an individual diagnosed with binge-eating disorder to consume as much as 3,400 calories in little more than an hour, and as much as 20,000 calories in eight hours. Unlike bulimia and anorexia nervosa, there is no compensatory purging such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise or laxative abuse associated with binge-eating disorder. In order for binge-eating disorder to be diagnosed an individual must partake in binging episodes on average at least once a week for a three-month duration, the individual must have feelings of marked distress over these binging episodes and have a loss of control over the amount of food they eat. Additionally, at least three of the following factors must be present:

  • Rapid eating
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much is being eaten
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry

The relationship between dieting and eating disorders

Studies have shown that dieting is a trigger for the development of eating disorders and popular weight loss trends associated with dieting force individuals to be consumed with calorie counting, weight loss, exercise and food restriction. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and that 20-25% of those individuals develop eating disorders.

There are many different types of diets and studies have shown that nearly 50 percent of all American adults are currently dieting and 90 percent of individuals who diet will regain their weight within five years.  Individuals who engage in binge eating are consumed with food and many try to engage in dieting and restricting behaviors in order to prevent additional weight gain however developing a healthy relationship with food and body image is a key concept in successfully overcoming binge eating disorder. Food restriction can be viewed as a diet subtype, whether you are reducing your caloric intake, burning more calories through exercise or eliminating specific food groups, it is merely the same thing as dieting. Many individuals view restricting food as eliminating food altogether however this is not true. Eliminating fats, sugars or carbohydrates are all different forms of “restrictive” diets that can trigger the development of an eating disorder or worsen the binge eating disorder at hand.

Seeking treatment through balance and restorative eating

Dieting and restrictive eating can worsen binge eating disorder and even lead to a new eating disorder and although many people use this form of “treatment” to lose weight, it is important to understand that balance and mindfulness have been shown to result in the best treatment outcomes. A mindfulness approach on food and body image encourages acceptance, awareness and maintaining an open mind. In this treatment approach certain foods are neither seen as “good” nor “bad” but rather neutral and food is therefore needed in order to balance and restore the body. Following a meal plan developed by a dietitian or nutritionist can help heal the body and when the body is physically in sync with the mind, the body can find its natural set point and regain stability. Mindfulness also allows the individual to gain awareness of the underlying emotional issues causing the destructive eating patterns.

Center For Discovery