Dispel myths about binge eating and find out the facts about this common eating disorder.
There are so many misconceptions about binge eating disorder, but it is a relatively common condition. Binge eating disorder is defined in the DSM 5 as a condition in which one eats a substantial amount of food within a two hour window and experiences a loss of control over the behavior.
Some of the common binge eating disorder myths stem from lack of understanding about the condition. Learning more about binge eating disorder and sharing that information with others can help dispel binge eating myths so that people with this condition can pursue helpful treatment without fear of shame or judgment.
Myth: Binge eating is the same as overeating.
Fact: Binge eating and overeating are not the same.
Most people will occasionally overindulge in their favorite foods and suffer the consequences of feeling uncomfortable until the meal has digested. People who struggle with binge eating disorder also overeat, but it is as a result of a compulsivity rather than an occasional choice to overindulge.
When looking at binge eating vs overeating, another difference is in the amount of food that is likely consumed during the span of time in which the overindulgence takes place. The amounts of food that someone who binge eats is far beyond what one would consume in a typical period of overeating; binging is driven by compulsion and loss of control, which results in the mass consumption of food.
The length of time that the overeating takes place is also likely to be a longer duration in bine eaters than someone who simply overeats at a particular meal. Binge eating episodes can last up to two hours.
Myth: Binge eating only affects overweight individuals.
Fact: People with binge eating disorder are commonly overweight, but this is not true for all people with the condition.
Binge eating disorder is not exclusive to people who are overweight. In fact, sometimes one of the contributing factors to the disorder is excessive restriction of calories during the day, which results in a rebound effect and binge eating later in the evening. Someone of normal weight can still have a binge eating disorder. Binge eating and weight gain is common, but it is not a deciding factor to determine whether someone has this disorder.
Metabolism rates and genetic influences can impact one’s body size and the amount of food that causes weight gain for a specific individual. Because of the nuances of these varying factors, a person can have binge eating disorder but not be overweight. Someone who binge eats and has a fast metabolism and genetic predisposition to lean body size may not carry excessive weight, which makes the condition difficult to detect.
Not all people who have binge eating disorders are overweight; similarly, not all people who are overweight binge eat. This is an important distinction to make in order to better understand eating disorders and to avoid mislabeling people or increasing stigma and isolation.
Myth: Weight loss or dieting cures binge eating disorder.
Fact: Dieting can actually trigger binge eating disorder.
Contrary to what some may think, dieting is not the binge eating cure. The desire to lose weight that initiates the dieting process can result in deprivation or restrictive eating habits. This deprivation can trigger people prone to binge eating disorder, as it creates additional stress and hyper-focus on food. Resorting to a diet to stop binge eating is likely to actually reinforce the behavior due to that deprivation/binge cycle. Even if one succeeds in weight loss, this doesn’t mean that the binge disorder is cured.
Binge eating, like any eating disorder, is about one’s relationship with food and its impact on one’s life, health and functioning. Regardless of a person’s weight, this relationship is the deciding factor about whether an eating disorder is active or in remission. Someone who wants to find out how to stop binge eating should look into treatment options that address this underlying relationship with food along with any other co-occurring conditions.
The myth of weight loss or dieting as a cure for binge eating disorder is a dangerous one, as it perpetuates an activity that can actually worsen the condition by default. The shame and guilt that people with binge eating disorder experience is also perpetuated by the cycles of restriction and binge behaviors.
Myth: Binge eating disorder is rare.
Fact: Binge eating disorder is more common than anorexia, bulimia, HIV and breast cancer.
Binge eating disorder statistics show that it is the most common eating disorder, with a prevalence of more than three times the rates of anorexia and bulimia combined. Binge eating disorder is likely to be even more common than we realize, considering that many people with the condition remain untreated and do not tell others about it due to shame or embarrassment about the disorder.
Binge eating disorder was differentiated from other types of eating disorders in 2013 when the fifth edition of the DSM was published. A distinction was made between binge eating and bulimia as a result of the recognition that not everyone who binges engages in behaviors to rid themselves of the food consumed (purging). In fact, it has been discovered that it is far more common for people to have binge eating disorder without purging. This was an important distinction for the increased awareness of both disorders and legitimized the two conditions as distinct and separate.
Binge eating can be controlled by willpower.
Fact: It may seem like a simple matter of willpower, but the reality of binge eating is far different and more complex.
Binge eating is similar to an addictive process in terms of the compulsivity that takes over during a binge episode. Suggesting that someone with binge eating disorder just “use willpower” is similar to saying it to a person who is substance-dependent. If it were as simple as using willpower, no one would have any sort of compulsive, damaging behaviors, whether it be binging on food or misusing drugs or alcohol.
In these types of disorders, a process occurs in dopamine receptors in the brain and this turns the binge process into a compelling and compulsive behavior that is difficult to reign in. In short, this process hijacks the brain and turns binge eating into an addiction for those who experience this disorder. Using willpower with binge eating seems like a logical suggestion, but when one considers the underlying factors, it is a far too simplistic suggestion and implies a judgment that the person with the condition is somehow weak or lazy.
Binge eating disorder treatment can include different types of psychotherapy, medications or a combination of both. Professional help for binge eating disorder is available and can be a key part of recovery.
Myth: Binge eating disorder only affects adults.
Fact: Binge eating disorders can occur in adults, teens and children.
While binge eating disorder most often begins in late teens or early adulthood, it can be diagnosed in younger children and older adults. Binge eating disorder can be exacerbated by stress, as binge eating becomes a method of self-soothing. There is also a connection between neglect and abuse in children who have binge eating disorders, but this certainly isn’t the case in every situation. Children and teens who struggle with binge eating disorder as a result of abuse or neglect have likely found comfort in the use of food when emotional comfort wasn’t readily available or consistent.
A striking 1 in 4 people with binge eating disorder have a co-occurring diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The fact that such a high proportion of people with this condition have experienced trauma significant enough for a PTSD diagnosis reinforces the idea that binge eating disorder is based in stress and self-soothing.
Binge eating disorders in children can be tricky to diagnose, as children commonly experience growth spurts and need additional nutrients for growth. Sometimes parents can detect binge eating disorder in their children after noticing large amounts of food missing or food wrappers hidden in a child’s room.
Myth: Binge eating doesn’t have any long-term consequences.
Fact: Binge eating disorder can lead to long-term physical, emotional and social consequences.
The health consequences of binge eating disorder can include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Additional effects of binge eating disorder include social isolation, low self-esteem and depression. For the 1 in 4 people who have a co-occurring diagnosis of PTSD and binge eating disorder, the likelihood of social isolation is even greater.
Feelings of shame and embarrassment over the condition may result in self-esteem challenges and a refusal to eat in front of other people. Because so many of our cultural norms revolve around food consumption, people with binge eating and other eating disorders may avoid social gatherings for fear of judgment.
There is more social awareness and healthy conversations about body shaming than there has been in the past, however, for people with eating disorders, these challenges are deeply ingrained. As our culture expands awareness of binge eating disorder and myths are dispelled, it is more likely that people with the condition will seek the treatment they need to live healthier, happier lives.
If you or someone you love is struggling with binge eating disorder and addiction, contact The Recovery Village today. A caring representative will help you understand treatment options to address both substance abuse and binge eating at the same time. Contact us to get started on your path to recovery.
American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Men[…]ders, Fifth Edition.” 2013. Accessed June 7, 2019.
Bialka, Grace. “The Restriction and Binge Cycle of Binge Eating Disorder.” HealthyPlace. October 2, 2016. Accessed June 7, 2019.
NationalEatingDisorders.org. “Statistics and Research on Eating Disorders.” Accessed June 7, 2019.
Gupta, Rupal C. “Binge Eating Disorder.” KidsHealth, March 2015. Accessed June 9, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.