More than 7 million Americans struggle with Binge Eating Disorder, according to a recent Harvard-based study, yet little is known about this condition. While the seriousness of the symptoms and the prediction for outcome are important to understand, the ‘bright side’ of Binge Eating Disorder is rarely revealed and seldom offered as a resource for the individual. First, let’s take a quick look at Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
Binge Eating Disorder is defined as binging occurring on an average of at least two times a week for six months. Unlike Bulimia, BED sufferers don’t try to undo the binge by fasting or purging. Rather, the person feels out of control while eating a large amount of food, sometimes thousands of calories, yet does not purge or fast. The result is, however, a storehouse of feelings from guilt and shame to anger and self-hate. More often than not, these emotions are dealt with by eating more. Emotional eating will continue and the individual often feels stuck, hopeless and desperate.
There is a genetic component to binge eating, making it a particularly challenging disorder. Environment and the lack of personal resources including joy, mindfulness and support further complicate the picture. Many times a person will rely entirely on outside indicators such as clothing size, number on the scales, and in many cases, excelling to an extreme for a sense of well-being and wholeness, increasing the experience of internal stress.
In healing from an eating disorder, it is important to remember that the issue is not about food, though it may appear to be all about food. More times than not, the underlying force is emotion, which originates in thought, and the perceived inability to cope with feelings in a healthy way. Establishing a sense of control over one’s life is also a strongly perceived need. Most people think binges come out of the blue that a certain ‘force’ or ‘energy’ comes over them. Yet when awareness is cultivated, patterns emerge, dispelling this myth. In time, clarity, learning and growth can occur.
So what IS the bright side of binge eating? Opportunity. Many people go through their entire lives unaware on automatic pilot, so to speak. They move quickly from one event to the next, rarely tasting their food. The healing journey from BED requires mindfulness awareness of cravings, urges, patterns of unhealthy eating. The journey also requires awareness of emotion, thoughts and sensations. With mindful awareness, we can become aware of ourselves, as we are, in the present moment.
As healing progresses, it is possible to reclaim what has meaning and purpose in our lives. And from this place, patterns of living may change and relationships have hope of healing. The opportunity for inner balance and integrity is present as well as accountability and personal responsibility.
Acceptance: coming to terms with things exactly as they are in our lives is not only healthy but necessary in healing. It has been said that acceptance is the secret to life ~ the place where all things begin and end. Imagine looking at your body and seeing a person who has value and importance. Imagine befriending your body as it is, right now. And if not now, when? Living in acceptance is a lifetime gift, available to us in each moment.
Learning to make healthy choices is another opportunity as one heals from Binge Eating Disorder. Being open and accepting ~ and then being able to pause between stimulus and response ~ is a life-saving tool for any of us. Certainly, after having the recurring experience of making less than healthy choices in behavior, freedom of choice can be an exciting and life-affirming experience.
Becoming connected once again: body, mind and spirit, as well as reconnecting with others, is not only healthy and desirable, it is an opportunity to make a shift in the world. Research has shown even the slightest change has the ability to impact the greater world of which we are a part.
While true healing takes work, determination and planning, it is possible to become well. In looking on the bright side, becoming ‘weller than well’, as Dr. Carl Simonton has stated, is an opportunity to overcome obstacles and to live an extraordinary life of joy, acceptance and love. Achieving something that in the beginning seems impossible, offers a life of courage, inner peace and personal acceptance: a life of wellness, balance, compassion and joy. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “healing from Binge Eating Disorder not only offers wellness but a flowering and rebirthing of all that is beauty in humanity.”