What psychological factors play a role in the development of binge-eating? What emotional conflicts and effects are dealt with by binge-eating? If we start with early development, eating disorders are often seen as a way of coping with chronic disturbance in the empathic connectedness between parents and their child. The binge-eating person’s excessive need for food is understood as a way to tolerate anxiety in a person who does not have an internal sense of soothing. For these individuals food can become a soothing presence. When we want to start thinking about the meaning of binge-eating the early soothing bond between mother and child is of vital importance. If this relationship was not adequate the person can continue to seek comfort and soothing using binge-eating. Over-eating can be a substitute for maternal love and comfort.
Other factors can also be considered. When a person’s unconscious wishes or impulses are at odds with what is consciously considered to be acceptable it can also lead to symptoms. These unconscious impulses and wishes are often expressed via dreams, fantasies and symptoms (like binge-eating). Sexual and aggressive impulses are often unconsciously considered to be unacceptable. For some women who binge-eat, food is an area in their lives where they can express their passion. Experiencing pleasure in eating can at times be an unconscious defence against acknowledging genital (sexual) longings (particularly when there is enormous guilt about sexual longings). A person can regress (return to an earlier way of functioning) to finding pleasure in food (oral pleasure) to defend against guilt-ridden genital (sexual) longings. This process is totally unconscious.
The need for compulsive eating can also be thought about in terms of aggression. When aggression is denied and avoided people may turn to food as a means of unconscious expression of aggression. It is important that aggression is acknowledged so that it is not expressed using food.
The reasons why people can experience their aggressive and sexual impulses as unacceptable are complicated and often unconscious. One reason why aggression is repressed is that a person could fear loosing the love of a parent if they acknowledge angry feelings towards that parent. Some parents are seen as fragile by their children and therefore the child will protect the parent against anger by denying their anger towards the parent.
Binge-eating is not an illness you can treat on your own, but you can do some things to take care of yourself:
- It is important to have psychotherapy and go for your sessions regularly.
- Get support from friends and family.
- You should avoid dieting because trying to diet can trigger binges.
- You should eat breakfast, because eating breakfast could make you less prone to eating high calorie meals later the day.
- Keep less food in your home than you normally do.
- You should make sure that you get the correct nutrients.
- Try to identify situations that trigger your binge-eating behavior.
- Find healthy ways to soothe and nurture yourself.
We live in a society where binge-eating is becoming common and can cause great distress. The causes are complicated and often unconscious and breaking the cycle can be incredibly difficult. With help and a healthy eating plan there is hope for overcoming this symptom.