Proud2Bme | Mythbusters: The Binge Eating Disorder Edition

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Mythbusters: The Binge Eating Disorder Edition

By Catherine Mhloyi--Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States, and yet it was only added to the DSM-5 in 2013. Since BED has only been a diagnosable disorder for two years, there are innumerable myths and stigmas surrounding this newly-recognized disorder. Here are a few of the most common ones:

Myth: BED is not real. 

Many people, upon hearing the term “binge eating disorder,” immediately reject the idea that overeating can be a disorder. Many people consider times when they have gone back for seconds or thirds because they just couldn’t resist their mother’s cooking, or that time when they mindlessly devoured an uncharacteristically large amount of hot dogs, chips and brownies at their friend’s party. But BED is not simply overeating, just like anorexia nervosa is not simply undereating. BED is characterized by things like eating a large amount of food in a short period of time, to the point of uncomfortable fullness, and eating when not physically hungry, but feeling out of control or unable to stop. This behavior is usually followed by guilt and feelings of depression. In BED, bingeing is a recurring behavior, occurring an average of once a week for at least three months (WebMD.com/NEDA). The most distinct difference between BED and bulimia nervosa is that there is no purging or compensatory behavior after the binge.

Myth: Everyone with BED is overweight or obese.

Just like all other eating disorders, body type is not a characteristic of the disorder. Because eating copious amounts of food is a symptom of BED, it is often associated with weight gain or obesity; however, specific calorie intake, differing metabolic structures and other confounding factors mean that there are also many people who suffer from BED who are not overweight or obese (NEDA).

Myth: People with BED are just making excuses for their lack of self-control.

BED is a psychological disorder, not a lifestyle choice or symptomatic of a lack of discipline. This myth comes from the ignorant notion that all fat people are binge eaters or that they lack self-control. Oftentimes if someone expresses that they have trouble with eating too much and that they feel they cannot control it, all people hear is ‘gluttony.’ This disorder is largely stigmatized because of fatphobic societal attitudes. Gendered notions of food consumption—the way women are generally taught to always consider their eating habits and to watch their weight, while men (with the exception of fat men) are often encouraged to consume food in large quantities—can create confusing and conflicting messaging around food consumption norms. Along with the inconsistencies regarding metabolism and the fact that people with BED come in all shapes and sizes, this myth ignores the fact that these behaviors are triggered by emotional and psychological instabilities, not hunger (WebMD.com).

Myth: People with BED should just go on a diet.

Dieting for people with BED, as with all other EDs, often has a triggering and detrimental effect on those suffering. Dieting is no more helpful for someone with BED than it is for someone with anorexia nervosa. Dieting has been shown to have a triggering effect among those with BED; obsession over weight or food is known to trigger binges and have an adverse effect on recovery (WebMD.com). Even people without an eating disorder may feel the need to overeat after long periods of deprivation—and it gets much worse when BED is involved. Anyone with an ED should not consider going on a diet without a doctor’s supervision.

Myth: Only white women have BED.

BED is actually more common in black, Mexican and Latina women than it is in white women, according to Cynthia Bulik, PhD of NIMH. The myth that EDs are a “white person’s problem” contributes to marginalized populations not receiving adequate treatment and attention for their EDs. Also, not to be forgotten, 2% of American males suffer from BED compared to the 3.5% of females (NEDA), which is still a relatively large number. Still, men are less likely to admit to having an eating disorder of any sort because of societal expectations of masculinity.

Until the myths surrounding BED are socially debunked, many people will continue to suffer in silence with this disease. Only through informed discussions can we begin to tackle these issues, support those struggling and get help for those who need it.

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About the blogger: Catherine is a fashion design student at the Art Institute of New York City. She is passionate about fashion, art, music and poetry. An avid feminist, her mission in the fashion world is to change the way we sell our products to women. She believes that the fashion industry as it stands now plays a major role in the negative influences out there that damage the way people perceive themselves. She hopes to one day become a designer for plus-sized women and an advocate for body-positive marketing in the fashion world.

For more on BED, check out:

6 Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Tips

I Had No Idea: The Most Common Eating Disorder No One Talks About

Binge Eating Disorder: The Real Story

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