Binge eating disorder is, by most standards, the most common type of eating disorder in the United States.Since it has been added to the DSM-V as a standalone diagnostic category, binge eating disorder has gained prevalence in the public consciousness. Every day, new people make a commitment to treatment for binge eating disorder by entering eating disorder recovery programs. Eating disorder recovery is all about learning how to re-establish a healthy relationship with one’s body image, and with food and eating. Self-care is a big part of that process.
What is self-care? It’s become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, and that may have taken away from its importance. Although self-care can be something as simple as taking a walk to clear your head, it’s an important part of coping with the stresses that everyone feels. Self-care is the practice of taking an active part in maintaining one’s happiness and well-being. For people with eating disorders, stress is a potent trigger for disordered eating behaviors, so employing self-care techniques is an essential part of fostering and maintaining recovery.
What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
First, let us say that self-care practices are helpful in recovery from any kind of eating disorder; indeed, any mental health recovery from depression to OCD benefits from employing self-care. We’re focusing on binge eating disorder here because of how common, yet under-reported it is, as well as the fact that it’s often triggered by excessive stress. Self-care practices are a standard part of binge eating recovery, and they can be used for years after intensive treatment is completed.
Binge eating disorder was added to the psychiatric manual, the DSM-V, in 2013 as a standalone disorder. Earlier, it was lumped into a catchall category of eating disorders known as OSFED (Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders). Like more dramatized eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorders involved body image distortions,and a troubled relationship with food and eating.
You Can read the full psychiatric description of binge eating disorder here, but it can be broken down into five parts:
- Repeating binge eating episodes.
- A binge eating episode is defined as an instance where a person eats a large amount of food in a short period of time, often past the point of feeling full or even to the point of causing pain. An episode might also be defined as eating a large amount of food when not feeling hungry, eating alone out of embarrassment over the amount/type of food being eaten, eating much more rapidly than usual, or feeling self-disgust or shame about the food eaten.
- The person feels markedly distressed about their heating habits.
- The episodes occur at least once a week over 3 months.
- The binge eating episodes aren’t accompanied by direct attempts to counteract the food eaten, such as purging or laxative abuse.
People with binge eating disorder are often overweight, although not always. This ties into one of the primary causes of the disorder; negative or distorted body image. Binge eating disorder is often accompanied by attempts at weight loss and/or dieting. This diet often causes extreme hunger, which leads to binge eating episodes and so on in a vicious cycle.
Binge eating disorder can lead to several physical and mental health concerns, some of them life-threatening. On the physical side, binge eating disorder can result in complications associated with obesity and rapid weight fluctuations. These include heart disease and other cardiopulmonary ailments, diabetes type 2, anemia, liver and kidney problems, and sleep apnea. Gastrointestinal distress is also quite common in people with binge eating disorder.
In terms of mental health, binge eating disorder can have a great effect on a person’s psychosocial function. They may feel distressed at mealtimes and become withdrawn and isolated. People with binge eating disorder also have a higher risk of presenting a co-occurring mental health disorder. The most common among these is depression but various forms of anxiety such as general anxiety, OCD< and PTSD are also common contributing factors. Managing these stressors through self-care is one of the key tenets to maintaining a successful binge eating disorder recovery.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the important aspects of self-care during binge eating disorder recovery.
Understanding One’s Own Needs & Necessities
Not every binge eating disorder treatment program is going to be the same experience for every individual, because every person who comes in for treatment will have needs that are different from the next client. The same thing applies where self-care is concerned. One of the first things that professional treatment providers will do is assess incoming clients to find out what levels of self-care should be implemented into their eating disorder recovery plan.
Clients may be asked to make a list of things that they consider helpful where self-care is concerned, such as journaling, listening to music, or even something simple like getting sunlight. Every effort is made to make sure that each person has a full list of things they can do to take better care of themselves physically and emotionally to help them through treatment. Time is often taken to employ such experiential therapies as art, music, or animal-assisted therapy to expedite this. Most if not all can be continued well after professional treatment is over.
Implementing Self-Care Plans Into Daily Routines
Once a person’s self-care needs are established during binge eating disorder treatment, those self-care plans will become a routine part of therapy and recovery for the individual. For residential eating disorder programs, one of the primary focuses is to create a reliable routine that the client can follow, and self-care is a huge component of the individual’s schedule. People who have binge eating disorder, as well as other types of eating disorders, do not usually have the most predictable schedules. In fact, erratic behavior, compulsiveness, and even unpredictability are all common personality traits among eating disorder patients.
It is not uncommon for those who enter treatment to have such a negative self-image that they have omitted multiple levels of self-care from their typical day-to-day routine. For example, someone with BED may not be used to getting enough exercise or taking time out to meditate to eliminate stress. As simple as it sounds to include self-care as part of a regimen during a binge eating treatment program, it can take some adjusting and encouragement to help people remember what it is like to have a schedule that’s rewarding for their mind and their body.
Encouraging Self-Care Beyond Treatment
It is easy enough to make sure that people with binge eating disorder follow a good regimen of self-care during treatment. However, once people leave inpatient or even day treatment programs, what they learn in treatment can be easily disregarded. Therefore, one aspect of self-care during eating disorder recovery is actually helping clients learn how to make self-care a necessary part of life in the long term. Teaching people the importance of self-care and new methods for incorporating self-care into their routine can do a lot to encourage them to continue with what they’ve learned beyond treatment.
Motivation is hard to come by. This is true for daily self-care practices as well as eating disorder recovery. After all, relapses are hardly unheard of, and it’s all too easy to slip back into old habits. Because of this, many therapists recommend taking time for self-reflection, such as keeping a journal and then re-reading it at later junctures. It won’t always magically fix a person’s flagging motivation, but it helps them remember what they’ve already achieved and the pride that comes with it.
Self-Cre and Recovery at Rosewood
Self-care is a core component in eating disorder treatment. At Rosewood, we focus almost as much on self-care as we do other forms of therapy. Our treatment facilities are known as a leading example of what treatment for an eating disorder should look like. Reach out to us for more information about our programs.
Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S