Can focusing on emotions when talking with your therapist improve symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder (BED)?

Binge-eating disorder, although not formally recognized until added to the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), is the most common eating disorder in the United States.   Having experienced the suffering from this diagnosis myself in the past, I used to refer to it as an emotional eating disorder.  Simply put, I used food to soothe and comfort myself.  I had not learned any healthy coping strategies when I experienced emotions, so I did my best to stuff them down with food.  It wasn’t until I took the journey of befriending my emotions and honoring their intelligence that I even became aware of my unhealthy relationship with food and eating behaviors.

Once I was able to accept my emotional beingness as a human, so many more things began to make more sense to me.  With the support of a good therapist, I came to learn that what I had experienced as a child was traumatizing and I disconnected from my emotions to survive.  However, living life from only the logical intelligence perspective was so limited.  And, even though I disconnected – or dissociated – from my emotions, it didn’t mean they went away.  They wanted to come out and be heard, so they knocked on the door loudly, sometimes bursting in when I least expected or wanted them.  So I used food to try to quiet them down, like you feed a baby when they are crying.

When I learned how to recognize my emotions and allowed them to have some air time, I was able to engage in a dialogue with them so they could inform me what I needed in the moment.  I then needed to learn how to give myself what I needed.  My personal journey towards valuing my superpower – my emotional intelligence – is the reason that my psychotherapy services include emotion-focused therapy (EFT).  Prior to EFT being researched to the point of becoming an evidenced-based practice, most research and treatment for BED aligned with cognitive behavioral therapies (CBTs).  Unfortunately, these approaches could not address efficacy, failure to abstain from such unhealthy eating, and high drop-out rates from treatment, because powerful emotions are among the most accurate predictors of BED.

This realization led researchers to consider exploring other psychological treatments with a focus on emotions.  A recent research study looked at EFT as an alternative treatment approach for BED other than CBT.  The results validate my own personal journey.  The findings provided additional evidence that individual EFT might be beneficial in the treatment of BED, as it supports clients in processing uncomfortable emotions instead of relying on food as an emotional coping mechanism.

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