There is a wide array of misconceptions when it comes to people who have a binge eating disorder. It is, in fact, the most common eating disorder in the U.S. that affects an estimated 6 to 8 million Americans.

In 2013, binge eating disorder (BED) was declared an official clinical diagnosis when the American Psychiatric Association recognized it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The myths concerning BED are part of the reason many people don’t seek out eating disorder treatment. People might think BED is just about consuming a large amount of food which one might do during a Thanksgiving feast. But occasionally eating large amounts of food is significantly different than the loss of control people with BED experience on a regular basis.

The reasons why people have BED center around feelings of depression and guilt. It is a compulsion that can greatly affect someone’s quality of life. Fortunately, there are several treatment options for those who do have a binge eating disorder.

Unlike someone with bulimia, after a binge eating episode, those with BED will not try to compensate, or expel the food by vomiting or using laxatives. The more episodes of binge eating someone has per week, the more serious the disorder is.

When seeking advice, diagnosis, or treatment be sure to discuss with your doctor or mental health professional your symptoms including your feelings.

Symptoms of people with a binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating when you’re full or not hungry
  • Eating a large amount of food within a specific time
  • Thinking your eating habits are out of control
  • Eating rapidly during a binge episode
  • Often eating in secret or alone
  • Eating until you feel sick
  • Feeling ashamed or disgusted about your eating
  • Going on diets often, possibly without weight loss

1. Myth: All People Who Binge Eat Are Overweight

All people with a binge eating disorder are not overweight. In fact, BED affects people with varying body sizes. Although binge eating and gaining weight are common, it is wrong to focus on weight as a main characteristic of BED.

Metabolism and genetic factors influence an individual’s body size and how much food one can eat in order to gain weight. Someone with a fast metabolism and a genetically lean body may not be overweight but still might engage in binge eating.

Just like not everyone with a binge-eating disorder is overweight, not all heavy people binge eat.

2. Myth: Binge Eating Is a Matter of Willpower

Binge eating disorder is much more complex than being a simple matter of willpower.

Binge eating is more akin to addiction in terms of the compulsion that drives an episode of binge eating. Similar to suggesting to an addict or alcoholic to “just say no,” this ignores the fact that people with BED have lost any sense of control. If it was about using willpower, there wouldn’t be anyone with addiction or binge eating disorders.

In both disorders, dopamine, known as the “feel-good hormone,” floods the brain. This occurs not only during binge-eating but before the act as well, which is where the craving or compulsion begins.

Although advising someone to simply stop might seem logical, it is far too simplistic to imply someone is weak or lazy and ignores the underlying reasons for the disorder.

Binge eating disorder treatment may include medications, psychotherapy, or both.

It is important to remember that this article is for informational purposes only and to seek out medical advice before beginning any type of treatment.

3. Myth: Only Adults Are Affected By Binge Eating Disorder

Although the majority of binge eating begins in people’s late teens or early adulthood, it also affects young children and older adults.

Binge-eating disorder can be triggered by stress and become a form of self-medication much like drinking alcohol.

In addition, children who are abused or neglected have also been known to develop binge eating disorders. They find relief and emotional comfort in binge eating when they couldn’t find it from people in their lives.

Studies suggest that roughly 25% of people with a binge eating disorder have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This fact reinforces the thought that those with BED are seeking relief from stress.

And although it might be more difficult to determine if children suffer from BED, sometimes parents can deduce whether their children may have it if they find large amounts of food missing or discover empty packages and food wrappers hidden in their child’s room.

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