04/05/2012 03:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2012

Learning About Binge Eating Disorder

Do you want to know more about binge eating disorder? Professionals from all across the country recently met at a national convention to discuss research and treatment. I got the opportunity to interview Marsha Hudnall, the chairperson of the conference.

1) Marsha, you were the chairperson of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) conference this year. Tell us about your role and how you got involved in the organization. This is the third annual conference, correct?

Marsha Hudnall: I've been working with women who struggle with binge eating almost before it was actually identified as such. I own and operate Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women's health retreat in Vermont that for more than 40 years has helped women stop dieting and learn how to adopt an approach to healthy living they can sustain. Although there are many reasons people binge eat, one of the most common, and most preventable, is dieting. When people diet, they often they get too hungry. When that happens, it's a normal physiologic response to eat quickly, eat more than we really need before we realize it, and seek richer foods. The real culprit, however, is the guilt about overeating that dieting sets up. Guilt just makes many people eat more, and often it turns overeating into a binge.

When I first learned of BEDA, I contacted founder and CEO Chevese Turner and told her I wanted to help. Binge eating disorder is actually the most common eating disorder; more people struggle with it than with anorexia and bulimia combined. BEDA was founded to bring this disorder into the light and gather researchers, treatment professionals and individuals/families/friends who struggle with binge eating so that we can learn from each other and find effective solutions for this terrible problem.

Chairing BEDA's third annual conference was such a fulfilling experience because it truly advanced BEDA's goal, which is to give everyone access to the tools they need to live with, treat, and, ultimately, prevent the disorder. The growing research around binge eating is incredibly encouraging and exciting. I am lucky to have front-row seat and be able to take all these findings back to the women I work with at Green Mountain.

2) Last year, there were several talks about mindful eating. Was there a theme this year?

MH: Mindful eating continued to be a key theme at the BEDA conference this year. There's a reason for that -- it's a key strategy for helping to overcome binge eating! Being in the moment, listening to what our bodies tell us about what, when and how much we need to eat is so important to moving away from many of the eating and thinking patterns that lead to overeating. Just take the problem I discussed above of waiting until we get too hungry before we eat. When we eat mindfully, we eat long before that point. We honor our hunger cues, eating a reasonable amount of time after we first become hungry. We also don't worry about "good" foods and "bad" foods, but listen as our bodies to tell us what's right for us. So that gets rid of the guilt that comes misperceptions about food, which lead to binge eating for many of us.

3) I am sure there were many fantastic lectures, please give us some of the highlights.

MH: Green Mountain's psychologist Darla Breckenridge and I presented about how to achieve your goals when it comes to healthy weights. Interestingly, many people who binge eat do not struggle with weight, but many do. Based on our experience at Green Mountain, we talked about how to successfully adopt healthy behaviors that will lead to healthy weights. One of our primary insights is to stop trying to lose weight! It seems counterintuitive but when we try to lose weight, we often become impatient or easily discouraged, which leads us to give up on the healthy behaviors. Refocusing on healthy behaviors instead helps us stay connected to feeling good, and that keeps us motivated.

Another very interesting topic that needs more recognition is weight stigma. Weight is the last socially accepted prejudice, and it's past time to end it. BEDA sponsors Weight Stigma Awareness Week each September, in recognition of how weight stigma leads to and/or exacerbates binge eating. Topics covered included weight stigma and bullying, and how weight stigma plays into struggles of college-age women and men. Did you know the "Freshman 15" is really the "Freshman 2.5 to 3.5"? This illustrates so well how the fear of fat is blown out of proportion.

Other great topics included the role of shame and trauma in binge eating and how mindful eating can help heal that, and the neurochemistry of binge eating where mindful eating also plays a big role. We also spent a morning discussing food addiction. I particularly appreciated the research that suggests how taking a neutral attitude toward food, e.g., not labeling it good or bad, can have a big impact on how much you believe you need to feel satisfied.

4) Tell us about Green Mountain for those who may not know about it. How might it be of interest to someone with struggles with binge eating?

My mother-in-law, Thelma Wayler, RD, founded Green Mountain at Fox Run 40 years ago this summer as place where women could learn how to manage their weight without dieting. Back in the early 70s, dieting was still a relatively new phenomenon but was becoming THE way to manage weight. Thelma was a visionary pioneer who understood long before most others that dieting creates more problems than it solves. She was so right.

Green Mountain is not a typical weight loss spa, nor are we an eating disorder treatment center. Our focus is on helping women stop dieting and start living. We help them understand and experience the process of becoming mindful eaters, find pleasure in physical activity, and begin to live their lives now, instead of waiting until they reach a magic number on the scale or a certain clothing size.

We help women overcome binge eating by understanding how to feed themselves well, the reasons they use food for comfort, and how to make choices in the moment that will short-circuit the binge and emotional overeating cycle.

Marsha Hudnall, RD, MS, is a board member of the Binge Eating Disorder Association, and owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

Twitter: @eatingmindfully

See Dr. Susan Albers' new book, But I Deserve This Chocolate: the 50 Most Common Diet-Derailing and How to Outwit Them. She is a psychologist for the Cleveland Clinic and author of five books on mindful eating including 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food and Eating Mindfully 2nd edition (pre-order now!). Her books have been noted in O, the Oprah magazine, Shape, Prevention, Health etc. and seen on the Dr. Oz TV show.

For more by Dr. Susan Albers, click here.

For more on eating disorders, click here.