As you may or may not have been aware, last week was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW). NEDAW serves to raise awareness about potentially life-threatening disorders to which so many people in the world are unfortunately subjected. When most people think of eating disorders, they think of anorexia or bulimia. However, not many people think of binge eating disorders. Perhaps this is because there was previously much debate about the existence of this condition, and it has only recently been considered an eating disorder. Although this disorder was first identified before 1960, it was not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders until the late 1980s, and even then it was not given its own category, but rather categorized under “Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified.” It was not until May 2013 that binge eating disorder was officially published as its own specified category. With such a “new” illness comes a lot of stigma, and even more myths. Keep reading to find out the truth behind living with binge eating disorder.
Many people believe that all people with binge eating disorder are obese, but that’s just not true. Another extremely common myth is that a healthy diet and exercise plan is enough to stomp this disorder out of lives and into the dirt. Not quite. Lastly, on a more positive note, while people believe that this disorder is permanent, it is actually treatable.
So what, then, is binge eating disorder? Who can get it? What’s it like living with it? According to the DSM-5, this disorder is characterized by recurrent binge episodes, in which a person eats a substantially larger amount of food than average and often feels out of control while eating. Such eating behavior is usually done in private in order to hide subsequent feelings of embarrassment or shame. Oftentimes, this eating goes on when the person is not even hungry. After a binging episode, it is common for a person to feel physically uncomfortable, depressed, guilty, or disgusted. The criteria state that in order to be diagnosed, such behavior must occur at least once a week for three months. One thing that is especially different about binge eaters is that, unlike bulimia for instance, people take no action to perform compensatory behaviors, such as purging or any other form of compensation. Additionally, although this is not mentioned in the manual’s criteria, binge eaters often utilize a very “all-or-nothing” mentality. They will follow a strict diet and practice exceptional self-control during the day, and then slip up at night, leading to the thought process of already having failed, so why not eat the rest of that party-size bag of chips?
Tragically, but truthfully, anyone can fall victim to binge eating disorder regardless of gender, age, race, socioeconomic status, or even weight. There is no number on the scale that serves as a safety net. So why do people develop this disorder? Usually, it is a coping mechanism. People use food to try to fill an emotional void, but no amount of food ever leaves them emotionally satisfied. In the same vein, binge eating disorder is often comorbid with major depression, falling in line quite neatly with the aforementioned attempted emotional escape.
On a more positive note, binge eating disorder is by no means permanent. That being said, seeking treatment for this disorder, as with any disorder, is a very delicate matter. Primarily, it is important that you treat this disorder like the illness it is, meaning you should not ever tell someone suffering to “just control yourself,” or “stop being so lazy and go to the gym.” Binge eaters already know what they should or should not do to maintain a healthy lifestyle! The problem falls in the emotional dissatisfaction, depression, or other general feeling of emptiness in their lives. It is extremely beneficial to see a professional when suffering. Oftentimes, some cognitive behavioral therapy can make a huge difference.
Keeping all this information in mind, remember that everyone binges once in a while…it’s okay to help yourself to that extra slice of pizza! However, if you think you or someone you know may be suffering, you can learn more about this disorder, as well as other eating disorders, at nationaleatingdisorders.org.