You may not believe this, but binge eating disorder (BED) is a relatively common condition. It’s defined in the DSM-5 as a recurrence of frequent overeating within a short space of time – usually two hours or less. During this time, the affected individual will often lose control of inhibitions and their behaviour, which causes them to experience a form of mental blackout. The reason that it’s so commonly dismissed as a fictitious condition is that eating large quantities of food has been so normalised within western culture and to an extent even celebrated. And it can often be covered up remarkably well. Unlike bulimia and anorexia, where the individual would show clear signs of debilitation and weight loss, the binge eater may often display no difference in their overall appearance. Here are some of the biggest myths about binger eating disorder.
1. Binge Eating Disorder isn’t a “Real Thing”
Binge eating is a very real disorder. It has an official categorisation within the DSM-5. And not only affects an individual’s mental state, but it can also have serious consequences on their physical health if it’s left untreated in the long-term. Over-eating stresses the body and the organs which are responsible for processing the food we consume. They have a limited capacity and life span. Much like a car engine, the more miles you put on them, the greater the chance there is of it breaking down. Heart disease, diabetes and other associated issues are just as much of a risk factor as the disruption caused to your productivity and though distraction.
2. ‘Binge Eating’ Disorder is Really Just ‘Overeating’
People like to interchange the two words – ‘overeating’ and ‘binge eating.’ Partly, the reason for this is due to the acceptance of binging as an acceptable part of our modern culture. We may binge a series on Netflix and wear it as a badge of honour. And because that, the word is now in firmly established in our common vocabulary and how we now describe overeating. Except, the two are completely different. Overeating can be seen as having an extra piece of cake or indulging in a large meal at family gatherings. It’s occasional. Binge eating, on the other hand, involves eating far past physical fullness on a frequent basis.
3. Binge Eating Disorder Only Affects Overweight People
Binge eating is not a weight-specific disorder. It’s a mental condition that’s governed by triggers which have been embedded in an individual through their environment, peers and other stimulus. It’s a compensatory behaviour which functions as a way to avoid dealing with difficult or negative emotions. Although binge eating can lead to eventual weight gain, it’s not a symptom of the condition itself. The onset of binge eating can be likened to any other form of addiction. It’s a compulsion born of deep unsatisfaction with one’s personal circumstances.
4. People with Binge Eating Disorder Just Need to Eat Less
If people with binge eating disorder (BED) just needed to eat less, then there wouldn’t be such a condition in the first place. Regulating these compulsions that are activated by strong emotional triggers is something which requires a strategy to overcome. It’s a multifaceted process of identifying, accepting and moving beyond these self-limiting behaviours. At its core, binge eating is a behavioural disorder that can only be overcome by making a concerted effort to make positive changes to your behaviour. The key takeaway is that it’s not as easy as making an instantaneous choice but instead is about make progressive steps towards recovery.
5. People Who Binge Eat Just Need to Go on a Diet or Lose Weight
This is possibly one of the most harmful misconceptions, especially if it’s coming from the mind of the binge eating themselves. A significant part of the binge eating cycle is the restriction that occurs after an episode – which inevitably leads to further binging. It’s a vicious cycle that can be hard to break. So to suggest that a calorie-restricted diet is an answer loses sight of the nature of the condition. It may work for a certain length of time, but unless the issues relating to the binge eating are addressed, it will eventually resurface. Such diets are unsustainable, and the breaking of the rules often leads to a reoccurrence of the original problem.
6. People Who Binge Eat Just Need to Eat Less High-Fat Food
Again, food types/groups have much less to do with binge eating than is suggested, as it’s not a weight-specific disorder. It doesn’t matter what types of food form part of the binge episode. You can just as easily binge on a high-carb foods, which in many ways is far easier to do, due to the satiating effect that fat has on the body. For example, this might be the case if you’re following a ketogenic diet (high fat/low carb) and experience a slip. If you’re already predisposed to bring eating episodes, you could easily find yourself eating all of the high-carb foods you’ve denied yourself so long.
7. Binge Eating Disorder Only Affects Women
Another popular myth is that Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a gender-specific issue. This has become accepted fact for a lot of people, as women ‘apparently’ place more emphasis on diet than men. But it’s a variable that doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. It’s estimated that around one third to one-half of all binge eating disorder cases affect men. It’s a sizeable number to say that it’s a women’s only condition. And binge eating transcends not only gender but race, ethnicity and age as well. Like, the vast majority of mental health issues, it doesn’t selectively choose its target. Everyone is just as susceptible if the right conditions are in place.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
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