We’ve talked a lot on this blog about our own personal experiences with eating disorders. We thought we would take the first day of NEDAwareness Week to talk about Binge Eating Disorder specifically, what it is and the symptoms and characteristics of the disorder.
As defined by the Binge Eating Disorder Association, or BEDA, BED is “characterized by recurring episodes of binge eating, feeling out of control while bingeing, and feeling guilt and shame afterward.” A binge in this context simply means a larger amount of food than would be “normal” to eat in one sitting, with the person feeling they have no control over when to stop. A person diagnosed with BED does not purge, as is the case with bulimia.
“BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States. An estimated 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and 30% to 40% of those seeking weight loss treatments can be clinically diagnosed with binge eating disorder. The disorder impacts people of all ages (including children and adolescents), races, and levels of education and income.”
The characteristics of BED include:
Recurring episodes of binge eating
Eating until uncomfortably full (and even then, not being able to stop)
Eating extremely rapidly
Eating alone, often in secret and out of embarassment of being seen eating by others
Feeling disgusted and ashamed after eating
Binge Eating Disorder is as dangerous and distressing as any other eating disorder; a person with BED often feels as if there is something wrong with them: that their willpower isn’t strong enough, that they aren’t strong enough, an idea unfortunately reinforced by a weight-obsessed society, and often even well-meaning friends and family. An estimated 70% of those suffering from BED are obese, and many people often assume recovery from binge eating is associated with weight loss – that a healthy diet and exercise will magically solve the problem. This is not the case. Many binge eaters – including us – have been on diets at many, many points in our lives, some stricter than others.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine recently completed a study which found that trying to “fat shame” someone who is overweight can actually lead to even more health problems – “fat shaming” being expressing mockery or criticism about a person judged to be fat. One of the co-authors of the study stated that obesity itself is a complex health issue, not a willpower issue. Fad diets are all about control – control of portions, specific nutrients, eating amounts or times – and BED is the opposite of control.
The study authors said “obese people are often viewed as lazy, lacking willpower, incompetent, unattractive, and to blame for their excess weight. This leaves them feeling stigmatized. Previous research has linked feeling stigmatized about weight to [even more] weight gain and emotional distress. The new study suggests it’s not just the stigmatizing, but also the level of a person’s reaction to fat-shaming that can impair health.”
Failing at a diet only exacerbates an eating disorder, making the shame and stigmatization worse. Both of us have experienced this. It’s one of the reasons we suffered from an eating disorder for so long before knowing we even had an eating disorder – or even knowing that Binge Eating Disorder existed in the first place.
(Which in a way, at that point, it didn’t – BED was not recognized as a separate eating disorder with its own set of specific diagnosing criteria until 2013. Before that, it was a subset of EDNOS – Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.)
Here’s a fun fact: Andrea was diagnosed with her eating disorder at 23 – after two years of “successful” dieting, when she was at her lowest weight since the age of twelve. Both of our weights have gone up and down like a pendulum swing. It’s safe to say our binge eating was probably at its worst when we were attempting to diet; restrictive eating leads to hunger. Which leads to the uncomfortable sensation of hunger, which leads to wanting to get rid of that sensation. Never mind the psychological implications that are associated with dieting – after all, when someone doesn’t lose weight after a given period of time, they are clearly doing something “wrong.” These thoughts feed right into an eating disorder.
Imagine a loud, overwhelming voice in your ear that tells you you’re fat, all day every day. So you go on a diet, which you fail, which makes you feel hopeless, which makes you binge to try to make the feelings go away, which makes you feel even more disgusting, which makes the voice in your head even louder than before. So you go on a diet. And round and round you go.
This doesn’t take into account the external voices reminding you of just how well you’re doing – or just how horribly you’re failing. Stigmatization does not prevent or reverse obesity, and it doesn’t prevent or reverse eating disorders. Individuals with BED constantly diet with little to no results, and go back to a cycle of binging. Eating disorders are more than just “issues” with food – BED especially cultivates depression and anxiety. The shame and guilt are so strong that individuals with BED often cut themselves off from friends and family, leaving them feeling alone and misunderstood, which often leads to more binges. This feeling of guilt and shame over unhealthy eating habits that is so prevalent in BED is why 57% of individuals with BED will never receive treatment.
The below video goes over warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders. If you find yourself nodding along at any point, please take this eating disorder screening. It’s a short, free, anonymous test that can get you started. Feb 26 – March 4 is NEDAwareness Week 2017, and this year’s theme is It’s Time To Talk About It. Keep an eye on this space every day this week as we do just that. We have some awesome posts planned that you won’t want to miss.