Binge Eating Disorder and Bariatric Surgery UK

Woman surgeon performing bariatric surgery on binge eating disorder patient

Do binge eating disorder and bariatric surgery go hand-in-hand? How do you feel about weight loss surgery?

I know some people perceive having Bariatric Surgery as ‘cheating’ or a lazy way out. In my opinion, these are often people that have been fortunate enough to live in average size bodies all their life, and can’t possibly relate.

Although I’m not advocating this surgery because it does have potentially significant complications. I believe that unless we have lived in experience of being in a much larger body size, it is not our place to judge. I choose to support rather than preach.  

Last year I spent some time working for a clinic offering weight loss surgery in the UK.  I chose to work there because I was impressed that the clinic insisted all patients not only were given the ‘warts and all’ details of the surgery. They were given psychological support before even being considered for surgery.

I also wanted to learn more about working with clients interested in pursuing weight loss surgery. Whether you agree with it or not, irrespective of risk, many people will still choose surgery.​  And given the financial accessibility of pursuing surgery abroad, it’s an area that needs much greater understanding and specialist support.

In the last number of years, we’ve seen a significant increase in people that ​​have decided to fly abroad for surgery where there is little to no psychological screening of suitability and no mental health support post-treatment.

This is such an important step that so often is overlooked because we know that many people pursuing such surgery will have a poor relationship with food.

Research suggests that around 50% of people that pursue weight loss surgery in Ireland and the UK, meet the criteria for binge eating disorder. 

What is Binge Eating disorder?

BED is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating at least 2 days a week for 6 months. Binge eating is eating, within a 2-hour period, a larger amount of food than the average person would eat within a similar period of time under similar circumstances.

These binges are often related to eating until uncomfortably full, eating alone, eating food rapidly, and feeling guilty or ashamed afterwards. Those with BED do not engage in any compensatory behaviours after binge episodes.

BED does not only occur in those living in larger bodies, however, but weight gain and obesity can also be a physical consequence of this mental illness.

Why do people binge eat?

Individuals might engage in binge behaviours for many reasons. Some of which include attempting to cope using food, experiencing addiction to physical sensations of eating, having a history of food insecurity, experiencing trauma, and many more. Without addressing these aspects, individuals with BED behaviours that undergo bariatric surgery in the UK can be at a huge risk.

BED is a mental illness and needs appropriate psychological support.  It is misunderstood and perceived as a ‘food’ issue.

Individuals believe that their binge eating will be resolved by the fact that they will only be able to tolerate small amounts of food​​​​ post-surgery but if anything, it can lead to even more disordered eating.  I have heard stories of patients blending food in order to binge.  

Patients with binge eating disorder in the UK are also at high risk of adopting ​​even more destructive coping mechanisms where bingeing isn’t physically possible, such as developing alcohol dependence.

My experience has shown me that people interested in pursuing weight loss surgery in the UK, do so with a certain amount of embarrassment or shame. This results in the issues they have being kept secret.

If you have any more questions about binge eating disorder and bariatric surgery in the UK and Ireland, or if you recognise that you have a difficult relationship with food and want support in addressing it, please reach out.

MORE HERE: PODCAST: Will a gastric sleeve or Saxenda injections help my binge eating?, BLOG: Building body respect when you need help with binge eating disorder

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