“Let’s Get Real”, America. Most of us know someone who struggles with body image distortion or disordered eating (restricting calories, dieting, binge-eating, etc.). But, with the prevalence of Binge Eating Disorder estimated at nearly 3% of adults, we are bound to know someone with this disorder. Despite the prevalence, there is still stigma surrounding this disorder, as many people who struggle with B.E.D. are overweight. And, let’s face it: In America, “Fat is bad. Thin is good.”
In 2004, when I first sought counseling for disordered eating, B.E.D. was not an official diagnosis. It was listed in the “disorders that need more research” section of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. My symptoms were officially diagnosed as “Eating Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified”, a catch-all category for any disordered eating behaviors that were accompanied by marked distress for the individual but did not fit the criteria for Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa. In the first five years of my treatment, I struggled to “own” the label, “Binge Eating Disorder”. I had doctors, psychology professors, and friends tell me: “You don’t look like you have Binge Eating Disorder.” Their comments were, I guess, aimed at making me feel better. However, I simply felt invalidated.
Fortunately, my therapist at the time, reviewed with me the criteria for Binge Eating Disorder (those listed in the back of the manual, for research purposes). My symptoms were nearly identical: recurrent episodes of binge-eating, or eating more than is typical in a discrete time period (less than 2 hours); a perceived loss of control over eating; eating beyond the point of feeling full, eating when not physically hungry, eating alone due to embarrassment, and self-loathing after an episode. The binge eating occurs at least once a week for a period of at least 3 months. Read the full list of current criteria here.
Do any of those symptoms sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Treatment for B.E.D. includes individual counseling, group therapy, and/or support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts Anonymous and may involve increasing awareness of the function that food serves (i.e., to mitigate boredom, to suppress sadness, etc.) and learning how to more effectively manage the feelings underlying the over-eating. Tomorrow, I will write about how mindfulness, especially mindful eating, has been a major part of my recovery from B.E.D. and how it continues to positively impact my relationship with my body, years after my symptoms of B.E.D. have remitted.
So, let’s keep talking about B.E.D. Let’s gently correct people when they use self-denigrating, fat-shaming language. Let’s do whatever we can to destigmatize this disorder, so all feel safe to seek help.