Binge Eating Disorder is a Real Disorder

I had almost forgotten that I struggle with a binge eating disorder, and the triggers of being isolated during quarantine reminded me of it all.

I’ve also never been diagnosed by a professional for this disorder, for several reasons, but let me explain why.

I never visit the doctors because I never feel sick, and other than my routinely yearly check up, you will not see me step foot into their door. I possibly have some underlying disappointment with our western medicine, because of the general lack of holistic knowledge, or at least the ability to suggest holistic approaches and really listen to their patient. Had my doctor actually asked me why in the world a 17 year old girl had severe acid reflux, instead of telling her she was lying, and she should just take a pill and go home? She may have continued to seek out professional help for her alcohol abuse, and use of non prescription drugs. Had people I’ve known been properly diagnosed for their mental illness? They may be different today, and some may still be here with us now.

Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m not like I hate western medicine. I think it’s incredible what our medical world can do for acute illness, trauma, and emergency situations. I also am extremely aware of the importance of properly medicating oneself. I just deeply believe that a more holistic approach can be applied to chronic illness, before giving someone a pill and dismissing them.

It’s more than thinking with a holistic perspective though, it’s letting go of biases and judgements towards someone when they’re seeking help. It’s about the patient feeling comfortable enough to express themselves fully to someone who they’re putting all of their trust into. Because if there is no trust, and there is no awareness that someone can help, we can find ourselves feeling isolated and trapped in our pain.

So, I’ve not been actually diagnosed for a binge eating disorder, but my 10+ years of restriction, obsession, and eating until I purge can suffice as enough information to know that it’s not normal.

My desire to live in a thin body trumped LITERALLY everything else in my life. Good grades? Skinny was more important. Deep and meaningful relationships? I’d rather spend my money on a beer, skip dinner, and forget about our conversation. A good nights sleep? I think I’ll stuff myself to the rim in privacy because I’ve starved myself all day, and go to bed in pain, thank you. Dreams? Aspirations? Determination? Did you hear me before? SKINNY WAS ALWAYS MORE IMPORTANT.

Along with never going to the doctors, I never even understood that I had an eating disorder. I never knew that binge eating is an actual disorder. You mean to tell me that having a cheat meal or a cheat day is in fact, not healthy? What? Lifestyle changes are a form of dieting and they’re meant to fail otherwise they wouldn’t still be in business? You’re lying, they're on my side! So wait, you’re sure that it’s not normal to plan a day of isolation to gorge on all your so called ‘bad foods,' because the next day is when you start your new life? *says this to self every other week* Yup, this is in fact a form of disordered eating and unhealthy behaviour patterns around food.

I’d also like to make it very clear that I am not a professional on this subject, and the knowledge that I do have about eating disorders is from my personal experience and research. I'm simply using this platform to create awareness so you can further your own research.

I would however like to provide some more information and ways to deal with a binge eating disorder from the NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association). I know that there is so much stigma around this disorder because it can be so easily over looked. Myths suggesting someone must in fact look like they have an eating disorder. Um, nope, this just adds to the isolation, thanks. Ones where we think, “Oh that’s just Karen, she always over eats and gets sick.” No, that’s not okay, Karen needs help.

We normalise behaviours that are unhealthy to our mind and body because we simply don’t understand them fully, or we just don’t know what to do. I struggled for so long because I didn’t know that I was sick, and I didn’t know that what I was doing to myself was controlling my entire life.

I didn’t understand that my eating disorder had become my life, and I didn’t understand that help was out there.

What is a binge eating disorder?

According to the NEDA, a BED (binge eating disorder) is a severe, life threatening, but treatable disorder that is caused by episodes of eating large quantities of food (often to the point of discomfort), feeling out of control during the binge, and followed by shame, distress, and guilt afterwards. Something important to note as well, is that a BED is one of the newest recognised eating disorders, and before 2013, would not have been covered by all health insurance policies.

What is a binge eating episode like?

The NEDA explains two main characteristics:

  1. Eating in a discrete period of time (within a 2 hour time period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat during that time under the same circumstances.

  2. A sense of lack of control over eating during that period (feelings that one cannot stop or control how much much one is eating)

They include that episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal

  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full

  • Eating large amounts of food without feeling physically hungry

  • Eating alone out of feeling embarrassed for how much one is eating

  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterwards

More criteria of a BED from the NEDA are:

  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present

  • Binge eating occurs, on average, once a week for 3 months

  • Binge eating is not associated with the current use of inappropriate compensatory behaviours (ie purging) as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa

Had the stigma around a BED not existed, I may have sought out help.

According to one 2007 study that asked 9,289 English-speaking Americans, published in Biological Psychiatry, found that 3.5% of women and 2.0% of men had a binge eating disorder during their lifetime.

Making BED three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.

Lack of support, community, and understanding are what stops people from seeking help. It keeps us in closets of fear, shame, and doubt because we don’t understand that there is another way to live.

The language we use matters.

Think about the person who is struggling with an eating disorder, and now say how fat you feel in front of them. Let them know how much you and all your friends, family, and community admire the thin ideal, and remind them that living in a larger body is always worse.

Doesn't feel quite right, hey?

We unintentionally cater to the fatphobic and misogynistic views of what beauty means in our westernised culture. We are raised to believe that thinness is equivalent to success, and we shame those who look anything other than.

There really is no pointing fingers here. There is no blame on ourselves, our friends, or our community. Just awareness.

The way we think about ourselves is a direct reflection of how we feel. The way we think about others correlates to how we treat everyone around us.

How do you view yourself?

How do you view someone who looks different than you? Do you say kind things in your mind? Do you talk about them to your closest friends with the sole knowledge that they could never find out what you’ve said?

Take some time to think about the language you use to describe yourself, your community, and those you don’t even know. Reflect on why you think this way. Ask yourself if these thoughts are your own, or if they’re a mirror of your surroundings.

If you are struggling with a binge eating disorder, you are not alone.

If you are struggling with your body image and self worth, we’ve all been there. Many of us are still there.

Some non food related suggestions that have helped me:

  • Clean up your social media feeds, ie: unfollow every account that makes you feel worse, not better. Replace them with diverse and inclusive people.

  • Talk about what you’re going through. Talk about it in your journal, or with someone you trust.

  • Learn about diet culture. Understand that this is a long fight towards a more inclusive world, and the diet industry exists to keep us coming back, they want us to fail.

  • Remember, there is always help and support.

The NEDA has online chat sessions, virtual support groups, mentors, and a contact Helpline.

Please seek out help if you feel you need it, and please remember that you’re not in this alone.

Photo by Billieon on Unsplash