As a mental health professional who works with eating disorders, I find that all eating disorders are commonly misperceived; however, in my experience, binge eating disorder (BED) is perhaps more misunderstood than the others. Here I debunk five common myths about BED:
Myth #1: "BED isn't a 'real' eating disorder."
Truth: BED is a real eating disorder. While it was classified in the recently outdated fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as an "Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified," in the new fifth edition of the DSM, it has its own diagnostic criteria under the spectrum of eating disorders.
Unfortunately, I often find that this myth is derived from the rationale that "eating disorders make you skinny and people who binge eat are fat, so they can't have an eating disorder." This statement is loaded with myths; which leads me to myths #2 and #3 below.
Myth #2: "Eating disorders make you skinny."
Truth: Not all eating disorders result in weight loss. In fact, individuals who suffer from Bulimia and BED are often considered average weight or above-average weight.
Myth #3: "People who binge eat are fat."
Truth: Although individuals who suffer with BED are more likely to be at a higher weight, many people who struggle with BED are not. One third of BED suffers are, in fact, normal weight.
Myth #4: "People with BED just like food too much and need to stop eating."
Truth: Binge eating is distressing. It is not a pleasurable experience and is accompanied by a sense of loss of control, so they simply cannot "stop." In the DSM-V, a binge episode is defined as, "eating more rapidly than normal, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not hungry, eating alone because of embarrassment, and feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after a binge." This description cannot convey the suffering one undergoes while experiencing a binge episode; however, it does mention the plethora of negative emotions that arise during and after binge eating. To read a excerpt that illustrates the pain associated with BED, read Donna's story found here.
Myth #5: "BED is a rare occurrence and not many people suffer from it."
Truth: BED is the most common eating disorder, afflicting 3.5% of women and 2.0% of men in the U.S. This translates to 4.2 million women and 2.3 million men in the U.S with BED.
My take-home message is this:
Eating disorders, including BED, do not discriminate. They affect males and females, and people of all ethnicities, ages, and sexual orientations. Someone who appears "healthy" may be suffering in silence and someone who appears "unhealthy" may truly be healthy. We cannot diagnose eating disorders based on appearance - they are a complex disease derived from biological, psychological, and social factors.
If you have any questions about BED or any other eating disorders, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will be happy to answer them.