Binge Eating Disorder affects more Americans than Anorexia and Bulimia combined, yet most people don’t recognize it as a legitimate eating disorder. The exact cause of Binge Eating Disorder is unknown. There are a lot of theories about the causes of binge eating, but nothing is definitive. Experts now argue that many eating disorders are genetic. It seems that epigenetics (genetic alterations to DNA where certain characteristics are turned on or off) may play a part in this. Cynthia Bulik, a leading expert in genetics and eating disorders, best sums this up when she says, “Genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” Often what we see is that there may be a genetic predisposition to binge eating, but life experiences create the opportunity for this to develop. Most people who struggle with binge eating degrade and shame themselves by believing that acting on their urges are just evidence of weakness.
Binge eating isn’t simply an act of a lack of willpower. We see that many people who have a history of trauma, particularly sexual trauma, abuse or neglect are at a higher risk for developing binge eating disorder. Food becomes a way to cope with extremely difficult life circumstances and escape the unavoidable.
In addition to abuse and neglect in childhood, I also see a large number of people affected by binge eating when they have been placed on diets at a young age. Food deprivation either through unavailability due to poverty or restriction by being put on a diet activates the survival mechanism in our brain which makes us obsessed with food. When that system activates in childhood, it becomes difficult to regulate thoughts and behaviors around food. It isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a biological need set off in our brain when our needs aren’t met.
The Journal of the American Medical Association recently released a research study that PTSD makes women twice as likely to develop food addiction. We see that trauma and compulsive behaviors actually change the structure of our brain which makes simply stopping impossible. By addressing the underlying issues, you can break free of the prison of binge eating. February is Eating Disorder Awareness month. Help us reduce the shame by educating others on this difficult problem. Call us today to learn more about the treatments we have available to help!