I sit across the room from a 20-something telling me her reality of not being able to control her emotional eating, and I think, “We’ve all been there.” More and more like her walk into my office begging the answer to a similar question: “How do I behave like food is not an issue in my daily life?” Wanting to stop binging is simply not enough for these individuals.
Why is there a connection between foods and moods? Why are starches so appealing when we feel stressed? Why does silky smooth chocolate ice cream soothe our sadness? For some, the connection is normal, and for others, out-of-control eating is a hurdle they cannot seem to overcome. These individuals eat food even when they are not hungry. People who suffer from binge eating experience feelings of shame about their eating habits. They may also experience depression about their weight or the way their body looks. These emotions can trigger more overeating and can lead to a cycle of binging: you feel bad, you overeat; you feel shame or stress, you turn to food.
Recent studies suggest a connection between Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and depression/anxiety. The lifetime prevalence of Major Depression Disorder (MDD) and anxiety disorders in the United States is estimated as affecting 17% and 29% of the population respectively. However, within the obese populations, reported lifetime prevalence rates are increased to 32.8% for depression and 30.5% for anxiety.
As I have said before, I am a frequent user of Art and Play techniques to reduce anxiety. One practice I frequently use is the beaded lizard. Although it may seem juvenile to some, adults like playing with beads. In this exercise, clients are instructed to make a lizard by stringing beads together, and when finished, it is functional and useful. They can rub it between their hands when feeling anxious. When having a panic attack, clients can count the different colored beads of the lizard, which may be more helpful than just counting to 10.
I also suggest this intervention to my clients who engage in binge eating.
Techniques for Addressing Binge Eating Driven by Negative moods:
- Identify negative moods and change them into positive ones via art or play
- Rule out diagnoses such as depression and PTSD. Treatment for these disorders can curb the binges
- Assist clients in building their support network by joining an Eating Disorder group. I may know of one!
- Utilize pharmacotherapy to control the binges
- Explain that they are not alone
I will leave you with a quote: “Always remember when finding the words isn’t easy, you can create art.” Art allows one to lose control. This behavior is not always easy for our individuals with addiction—so much of their life is consumed with control—but the challenge can have visible results.
I sometimes hear, “I cannot control my anxiety; the one thing I can control is what I eat.” Thus, the cycle begins. It’s our job as counselors to find a way to end it.
Pagaoto, S., Bodenios, JS., Kantor, L., Gitkind, M., Curtin, C., & Ma, Y (2007). Association of major depression and binge eating disorder with weight loss in a clinical setting. Obesity, Volume 15 (11).
Adina Silvestri is a licensed professional counselor, researcher, and counselor educator who works with adults and children in her private practice, Life Cycles Counseling.It is her passion to work with individuals with addiction through counseling, research and advocacy efforts with the hope of raising awareness to the lack of gender specific treatment and recovery programs. Read more about her at www.adinasilvestri.com