We all want the best for our loved ones, and it’s natural to be concerned when we observe changes in their eating patterns and/or behaviors, especially symptoms indicative of binge eating disorder. For many of us, it may be instinctual to respond to these shifts by stepping into the problem-solving role. While we have the purest of intentions when providing what we think is the correct way to rectify a situation, helping someone living with an eating disorder may not always be so clear-cut.
Binge eating patterns are often done discretely and can feel shameful. Due to the propensity for those living with this condition to feel guilty regarding their eating behaviors, if you are concerned for the safety of your loved one, it is important to spend some time planning out the most effective and empathetic way to confront them.
Considering some of the important questions below prior to having a conversation with your loved one can be key in identifying how best to proceed:
Have their eating patterns shifted? Dieting is commonly thought to be a remedy for binge eating when really it can help maintain the cycle. Oftentimes, dieting can lead individuals to start avoiding an increasing amount of foods that they may label as “bad.” Many times, though, that person might eventually give in and consume that particular food, leaving behind feelings of shame and guilt which could trigger a binge eating episode.
Has their talk around food changed? An individual who has binge eating disorder might hyper-focus on food or weight, talking or obsessing about it more than the average person. The converse may also be true, in that they could also completely avoid the topic or change the subject. Regardless of which direction your loved one goes in this situation, it is important to take notice of a shift in thoughts or behaviors.
Have they been secretive about eating? Eating behavior can feel extremely shameful and may be something that your loved one tries to hide from others. This may include purchasing foods in secret, hiding food, eating in secret and/or hiding wrappers. Some individuals may also be fearful that bingeing will occur in front of others and only eat alone to prevent confrontation or embarrassment.
Has their mood changed? Mood can be a catalyst for binge eating episodes. If someone is feeling down and depressed, food may be used as a coping skill to improve and regulate mood in the moment. Unfortunately, what typically happens during the binge is the feeling of being out of control which then usually leads to increased feelings of depression and anxiety. This cycle typically continues if feelings aren’t processed and adaptive coping skills aren’t introduced and utilized.
So how do we really know whether our loved one is struggling with binge eating disorder?
The truth is, many times, you may never know unless you have that uncomfortable conversation. Asking about someone’s eating habits can feel awkward and intrusive for all parties involved, but if you are able to frame the conversation from a genuine place of concern, citing behaviors that you have personally witnessed using a non-judgmental and caring tone, you might be able to make this situation flow a little bit more smoothly.
If you’re seeking support for your loved one – or have more questions on how to approach this topic with them – feel free to reach out to us. We’re happy to help.
Sarah-Eve Hamel, MA is an adult clinician in the PHP and IOP programs in Worcester and the Binge Eating Disorder Coordinator in Milford. She provides individual, family, and group counseling to adults with eating disorders. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Concordia University and her master’s degree in counseling psychology from Assumption College. Sarah-Eve incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in her work with patients. She is also passionate about research and education around the topics of mental health and eating disorders. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with family, rock climbing, and running outdoors.