5 Myths about Binge Eating

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Many people overeat or binge from time to time, especially on holidays and special occasions.  But now, binge eating disorder, a  serious, chronic syndrome, appears to be on the rise.

To mark Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) in Canada, Feb 2 to 8, 2014 – here are 5 main myths about binge eating disorder (BED), the latest eating disorder to be officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in the fifth edition of their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) – the standard by which diagnoses are made.

To simplify, binge eating disorder is out-of-control eating that persists over a period of time, is often repeated, and causes mental and emotional distress that interferes with a person’s quality of life.

Myth #1:  People who binge eat should just get their act together and exert some will power.  They are weak-willed.

Fact:  Men and women who binge eat are often very strong-willed.  It’s just that their will power has been warped into a weapon against themselves.  They get stuck in the yes-no ‘white knuckle’ battle.  Many initially turned to food for comfort, to help them through a rough time.  But this grew  into a habit and then into a pattern they were unable to control.  Aided by the pleasure and addictive power of some foods (e.g., sugar, fat, processed and junk foods), by the need to fix a problem quickly, and by the shame of being out of control and the lack of self-trust this generates, what started as an attempt to help themselves can turn into a self-abusive pattern of disordered eating.

Myth #2:  You can tell if someone binge eats by his or her weight.

Fact:  Men and women who binge eat come in all shapes and sizes.  Just because someone is overweight or obese doesn’t mean they binge eat.  Similarly, a person who is a normal or average weight may be a binge eater whose body simply metabolizes the food efficiently.  The shame connected with binge eating makes it difficult for sufferers to volunteer this information.  Medical professionals, counselors and therapists may fail to  ask this type of person about their eating patterns.  This puts such individuals at greater risk for developing a chronic binge eating disorder that goes on for years.

Myth #3:  People who binge eat just need to bite the bullet and go on a diet, like the rest of us.

Fact:  Many people with chronic binge eating started by first going on a diet to lose a few pounds, often with great success.  But weight loss is one thing, and weight maintenance is another.  Eventually, they binged again,  This was followed by another diet, then another binge – and a cycle that kept repeating.  The diet-binge roller coaster is not only soul-destroying, it can be the gateway behavior to a more severe eating disorder.

Myth #4:  Binge eating isn’t as serious as anorexia or bulimia.

Fact:  Binge eating is more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.  Actually, it is a component of both eating disorders.  Women and an increasing number of men severely restrict what they eat (anorexia) or purge in some way (bulimia) either to compensate after a binge (or what they consider a binge) or after a period of restriction, in reaction to feeling deprived.  Like other addictive behaviors, binge eating can itself become a trigger to binge again.  Once these patterns are repeated and become chronic, they take on a life and form of their own.  People with binge eating disorder may become anorexic or bulimic if the underlying issues aren’t dealt with.  And don’t think people don’t die from binge eating.  It’s just a slower way to go, and often contributes to other diseases associated with death:  heart disease, digestive ailments and diabetes.

Myth #5:  People with binge eating disorder come from abusive backgrounds.

Fact:  While an abusive or traumatic background can be a risk factor for binge eating, it needn’t be.  Many sufferers, both male and female, come from loving homes and families.  But incidents away from the home, such as bullying, peer pressure to look a certain way, or their own internalized pressure to please others may trigger the need to seek comfort in food.  Stressful life events, such as childbirth, a romantic break-up or divorce, or the loss of a job or a friendship, as well as everyday hassles, can also contribute.  Actually, worrying about weight is one of the major daily hassles for some people.

If you binge eat, don’t suffer in silence.  Get some help, before it gets worse.

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