How to get the right binge eating disorder treatment from your GP

If you’re suffering from binge eating disorder, there may be some very good reasons why you might be struggling to take the first step towards getting help and support. 

It’s normal to feel anxious when reaching out for help, and sadly, binge eating disorder can often bring with it overwhelming feelings of anxiety, guilt and shame. 

Knowing how to get the right binge eating disorder treatment will empower you to reach out and get the most appropriate help from your GP.

Some common anxieties you might have about seeking binge eating disorder treatment are: 

  • What if I’m not taken seriously by my GP? 
  • What if they try to weigh me or tell me to go on a weight loss diet?
  • What if I can’t properly articulate my true thoughts and feelings to the doctor?
  • What if I leave the doctor’s office with inappropriate advice and/or treatment?

In this post, I’m going to share my advice for making sure you know how to get the binge eating disorder treatment you deserve to help you on your recovery journey.

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is a mental health illness. It’s characterised by eating a large amount of food in a short period of time, while feeling out of control and unable to stop. Sufferers sometimes describe feeling dissociated and ‘out of body’ while bingeing, and episodes are often followed by intense feelings of guilt and shame.

From a medical point of view, the current diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder includes:

  • Eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time.
  • A lack of control while eating, be it a lack of control as to how much one is eating or that one is unable to stop.
  • Eating more rapidly than normal.
  • Eating until you feel uncomfortably full.
  • Eating large amounts of food even if you’re not feeling physically hungry.
  • Eating alone as you feel embarrassed by how much you’re eating.
  • Feeling disgusted, guilty and ashamed after bingeing.
  • Feeling distressed during a binge eating episode.
  • Binge eating, on average, at least once a week for three months.

Misunderstanding binge eating disorder

There are many common misconceptions about all eating disorders, particularly binge eating disorder.  For example:   

  • You cannot have an eating disorder if you are not underweight. 
  • Binge eating is the same as overeating or indulging. 
  • Binge eating can be treated by trying to lose weight. 

Not only are all of these statements false, but they are extremely unhelpful, and it’s essential we continue to put the right information out there and dispel these myths. While most GPs are excellent at offering support, some, unfortunately, are subject to these misconceptions and other unhelpful biases regarding the relationship between weight and health.  

What’s more, binge eating disorder was only added to the DSM as a recognised eating disorder in 2013. The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used to classify mental disorders using common language and standard criteria.

Consequently, when sufferers approach their GP for binge eating disorder treatment, they may find:

  • They’re not properly understood or taken seriously.
  • They’re referred to slimming clubs, or told to diet (especially if living in a larger body).
  • They’re prescribed a short course of CBT with a therapist not specially trained in binge eating disorder.
  • They’re told there is no help available.

How to get the binge eating disorder treatment you need

The first step to getting the treatment you need through the NHS is reaching out to your doctor’s surgery.

Advice for booking a doctor’s appointment

The surgery’s receptionist holds the key to you seeing your GP, so it’s important you know how to navigate this path.

  1. The receptionist is often trained to triage calls by asking the patient for a brief outline of why they need to see a doctor. Those suffering with a mental health issue often feel shame around their illness, and might therefore feel worried by this prospect. So here are some suggestions to overcome this.

When asked for the reason for the appointment, you could say:

  • “I don’t feel comfortable sharing that on the phone as it’s quite private”. 
  • “It’s an issue to do with my mental health, which I’d prefer to discuss directly with my doctor” 

2. Sufferers often underestimate the seriousness of their illness, or worry they’re wasting people’s time. Remember, binge eating disorder is a serious mental     illness, and you need and deserve to take up your doctor’s time and receive help. 

3. Think about whether you’d prefer to see a male or female GP, and let the receptionist know your wishes.

4. If you’re not familiar with the GPs at your doctor’s surgery, ask the receptionist for their advice. Explain that you’re aware some doctors have a better bedside manner than others, but you’re willing to wait for the right one, if they could recommend a particular doctor. 

Preparing for your doctor’s appointment

Your GP is the gateway to you getting treatment for your binge eating disorder, so once you’ve booked your appointment, prepare for it with the tips below.

    1. With the greatest respect, GPs are not specialists in eating disorders. They may not know the latest research or treatment recommendations. Moreover, they may hold biased views about weight and health. I therefore recommend you take the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder with you to your appointment (scroll up if you missed it). Use this to help explain to your GP how you meet this criteria.
    1. Ahead of the appointment, ask a friend or relative to rehearse the conversation you are likely to have with the doctor. This will help you to prepare for any questions you may be asked. For example, if the doctor refers you for CBT, ask instead for a referral to the  specialist eating disorder service for your catchment area. This referral will allow you to be assessed, and upon this assessment, a course of treatment can be recommended.
    1. If you wish, take a friend or family member with you to the appointment for extra support. 
    1. When you’re struggling with an eating disorder, knowing your weight can be triggering. You’re not obligated to get weighed as part of your visit or request for help, so ask your GP if it’s necessary, and if so, why. If the GP provides a reason with which you agree, you may prefer to be ‘blind weighed’. You step on the scales backwards, so you don’t know your weight, but your GP does. Another option is to take a ‘Don’t Weigh Me’ card with you to the appointment. These neat cards act as a polite and respectful way to let the doctor know your preferences in this regard.
    1. If you don’t get the response you need or you believe your GP is not taking you seriously, ask them to record your request for a referral in your notes. This will make them accountable for their decision and more likely to provide a referral.  
    1. If you’re not happy with the outcome of your appointment, you can ask the surgery practice manager for an appointment with an alternative GP if you wish.

Don’t struggle alone

It’s human nature that, when we’re struggling with something and need help, we hope to get the help we’re asking for. When that doesn’t happen, it can leave us in despair and make us question our own suffering. This, in itself, can trigger some of the unhealthy behaviours related to your eating disorder. It’s therefore so important to make sure you’re well prepared for a good meeting with your doctor. 

I hope the tips and advice in this post have given you the confidence to reach out to get the support you need for your binge eating disorder.

Our licensed professional therapists specialise in the treatment of eating disorders. You can contact us to book your free consultation

Take care,

Dr Courtney.

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