Myths and Facts About Binge Eating Disorder

There are several misconceptions about B.E.D. Here are the facts.

Binge eating disorderPhoto: iStock

Most of us have experienced times where we overindulged on food. And that’s okay—the occasional Netflix-and-junk-food marathon feels good, even if we may regret the jumbo-sized bag of cheese doodles later.

Binge Eating Disorder isn’t like that. B.E.D. is a serious medical condition characterized by regular episodes of binge eating. It’s more than just overeating: People with the disorder feel like they lose control during a binge, which can cause feelings of distress, self-loathing and shame. There are several misconceptions about B.E.D., even though it’s the most common eating disorder—more so than anorexia and bulimia combined. Here, we clear up some common myths about the disorder.

Myth: Binge Eating Disorder is a Choice

Real Talk: For people with B.E.D., bingeing is not a “lifestyle choice,” or a “phase.” It is a mental illness associated with mood disorders, anxiety and depression. The exact cause of B.E.D. is unknown, but research suggests that family history and brain chemicals may be involved. Stressful life events could also play a role in the disorder.

Myth: Only Obese Individuals Suffer from B.E.D.

Real Talk: B.E.D. is associated with increased weight, but the disorder affects people of all shapes and sizes; normal-weight, overweight and obese individuals can have B.E.D. One U.S. survey even found that the majority of adults with B.E.D. are normal-weight or overweight. In the study, 55% of participants had a BMI of 30 or lower, versus the 45% who had a BMI over 30, putting them in the obese range.

Myth: B.E.D. Only Affects Women

Real Talk: It’s a widely-held belief that only women and girls suffer from eating disorders, but that simply isn’t true. Binge Eating Disorder affects both men and women. It’s estimated that approximately twice as many women are affected as men: A study by researchers at Harvard University found that lifetime prevalence of B.E.D. was 3.5% in women and 2.0% in men.

This myth about eating disorders being exclusive to women can make it more challenging for men to seek treatment. They may not come forward because of embarrassment, or they may not even recognize that anything is wrong.

Myth: Recovery is Not Possible

Real Talk: There are several management options available to people struggling with B.E.D. One widely-studied treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which encourages individuals to regulate their eating habits through goal setting and self-monitoring strategies. These therapies can help reduce the frequency of binges: In a study of 125 obese patients with B.E.D., published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, just over half of the participants went into binge-eating remission one year after using CBT.

Other treatment options include nutritional counselling and medication. If you think you may have B.E.D., start the conversation with your family doctor. You may not feel comfortable talking about it, but asking for help is the first step to recovery.