Binge eating disorder develops based on a mixture of genetic, environmental and social constructs. The focus on this blog is the social/ family aspect of eating patterns.
Food is such a major component of cultural, social and family dynamics. It is used as part of celebrations, for religious ritualization, cultural events and a learned self-soothing habit. We have cake for birthday parties, a cultural dish to help when you are sick (like chicken soup), and a special treat when you are sad (warm cookies) or a special dinner on major occasions. Having food for every occasion can lend to the use of food as a negative coping skill because it has become a learned behavior. Binge eating / obesity will run in families due to the way food is used to deal with feeling or emotions. Memories are strongly tied to our senses: taste reminds use of a positive experience, the smell of food may remind us of a family member that cooked, and touch could be helping cook a special meal and the sound of a specific food cooking to bring back a special memory.
“From infancy, we establish a connection with our caregivers based on how our most instinctual needs are met. “ (Karges, 2018) One of our most instinctual needs is food and it is a major part of the bonding moments with a mother. According to Hamberg, The sharing of food can increases closeness to others like our parents making our favorite dessert when we are upset or sharing food at times of crisis. The use of food can become a supportive behavior and if no other self-soothing behavior is taught then food become the primary means to sooth self and others. The use of food in as a coping and self-soothing tool within the family can lead to binge eating disorders among members. According to Karges, some ways self-soothing through food is taught is by giving a food as a reward, a bribery to behave a certain way or used to comfort a child in destress. It is like replacing their favorite blanket or toy with a cookie every time they get upset.
There is also a genetic connection with binge eating and comorbid disorders like depression so families have learned to cope with the depression by using food. In the study, Parent binge eating and depressive symptoms as predictors of attrition in a family-based treatment for pediatric obesity, There is a correlation between parental mental illness and binge eating disorder and children developing the same patterns of behavior and diagnosis. If the behavior continues then it will be passed down multi-generationally.
The best way to assist in treating or preventing binge eating disorder is through the family system by changing eating patterns and the use of food in emotional regulation. In order for recovery to become effective the family needs to be involved in treatment to help reduce familial patterns in future generations and to support positive change.
Braden AL, Madowitz J, Matheson BE, Bergmann K, Crow SJ, Boutelle KN. Parent binge eating and depressive symptoms as predictors of attrition in a family-based treatment for pediatric obesity. Child Obes. 2015;11:1659. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4382825/
Hamburg, M. E., Finkenauer, C., & Schuengel, C. (2014). Food for love: The role of food offering in empathic emotion regulation. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00032 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00032/full
Karges, K. (2018). Binge Eating Disorder and Family Patterns of Self-Soothing. Eating Disorder Hope. Retrieved from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/binge-eating-disorder/binge-eating-disorder-and-family-patterns-of-self-soothing.
Written By: Karen Limme LPC Intern, Exult Healthcare