By Jennifer Nardozzi, PsyD
There are many misconceptions about eating disorders and in particular, Binge Eating Disorder (BED). Because of the many myths and misconceptions, treating these problems has been even more challenging. This article serves to challenge the myths surrounding Binge Eating Disorder and to provide some insights to effectively help those with Binge Eating Disorder.
Myth #1: Binge Eating Disorder Is Uncommon and Rare among the Different Types of Eating Disorders
Binge Eating Disorder is the most common of all the eating disorders but incongruently, with the least treatment options for the sufferers. Until recently, Binge Eating Disorder was not even recognized as an actual disorder and could not be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) published by The American Psychiatric Association.
It is only with this latest version, the DSM-5, published in 2013 has Binge Eating Disorder been named and recognized as an actual psychological diagnosis.
BED Can Shift Throughout a Person’s Life
Research and statistics on Binge Eating Disorder appear to suggest that BED affects approximately 2% of the population with slightly higher numbers in women versus men. What is important to note is that it also common for those with eating disorders to meet criteria for one type of eating disorder at one point in their life and then to meet criteria for another type of eating disorder at another point and/or to engage in various eating disorder symptoms throughout the course of their illness.
For instance, I have had many clients who report that they started with dieting and restricting-behaviors earlier in life and then later were struggling with bingeing behaviors as their primary problem. Frequently, clients with an eating disorder report engaging in multiple eating disorder symptoms throughout the course of their illness and at various times.
Keeping the Whole Person’s Life In Perspective
Therefore, is important to continually ask about specific symptoms and behaviors throughout treatment, as to not miss the whole picture.
If you are someone who engages in bingeing, it is important to receive specialized treatment and to honestly share the difficulties that you are having. It is important to disclose about the various eating disorder symptoms you may be struggling with even if your therapist or team has not specifically asked you. A provider can only help you as much as you allow them to and holding onto secrets only hurts you.
Myth #2: Binge Eating Leads to a Person Being Overweight
A person with BED may gain weight particularly after engaging in these behaviors over an extended period of time, though, this is not always the case. I have worked with several individuals who binge frequently and are of normal weight. They may engage in restriction and increased movement to compensate for the bingeing so that their weight remains in a normal range for their height.
If we assume that someone does not engage in bingeing based on their weight, then we may be missing vital information that impacts treatment. Because secrecy, isolation, and denial surround eating disorder behaviors and Binge Eating Disorder is no exception, clients do not always share about problematic eating behaviors. It is important to ask specific questions regarding eating habits and emotional issues related to food and body routinely, so a potential diagnosis is not missed.
Myth #3: A Person Who Binges Just Hasn’t Tried Hard Enough or Found the Right Diet
If you ask a person with BED their history of weight loss and dieting, for many of these individuals they have been on countless diets and have tried just about every program imaginable. They have lost “the weight” countless times. For most chronic dieters, they gain the weight back and often even more!
If weight loss was the answer to the problem, why didn’t it make a difference and why don’t the changes “stick”, so to speak? As one of my clients shared, “Food is a powerful drug”. On some level, it “works” as a means of coping with difficult and painful emotions if only as a temporary relief.
For many of our clients with BED, they have tried very hard to heal from these problems. Who would want to be holding onto behaviors where the cultural stigma is so great? One thing to consider is that these problems are “newer” compared to many other psychological illnesses and research and treatment models are relatively new as well. Thus, the approaches to healing and treatment from BED have been insufficient for true healing and long-lasting change to occur.
Myth #4: Weight Loss Will Cure the Problem
Another misconception about Binge Eating Disorder is that focusing primarily on weight loss is effective and curative. The error with this approach is that treatment then occurs at the level of the problem.
As the famous quote from Einstein states: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
There is minimal power in focusing on a number on a scale because a number alone is not indicative of health or true change. The power lies in changing behaviors or what we like to say in The BE Program, transforming behaviors. (www.thebeprogram.com)
Numbers Are An Exercise In Frustration
A primary focus on weight loss, often leads to obsessing over numbers and feeling frustrated and defeated. The danger is that a person may turn to an unhealthy “quick fix” diet to change the number on the scale rather than focusing on behaviors that support health and well-being.
Thus, treatment for BED requires going beyond the weight. It is about understanding the Food-Mood Connection and learning a new skill set for mindful eating and conscious coping. Understanding how the eating disorder, and in this case specifically, the bingeing, functions in the person’s life is a first step in facilitating lasting change.
Myth #5: Insurance Companies Cover All Eating Disorder Treatment Equally
There has been a history of insurance companies not providing mental health coverage for someone with a primary diagnosis of bingeing. The message was that these eating problems did not require psychological treatment or were not problematic enough to warrant comprehensive eating disorder treatment.
Typically it was not until there were significant medical problems as a result of the bingeing behaviors that an insurance company would cover comprehensive treatment. By that point, a person may have been suffering for many years without the proper treatment. Evidence demonstrates that prognosis is improved with early interventions and it is no different with Binge Eating Disorder.
As a result of poor insurance coverage, there were fewer treatment options or even eating disorder centers that offered specific treatment for BED. Clients often would pay exorbitant expenses out of their pockets for treatment of their eating disorder. Additionally, they may have found themselves to be a “minority” in an eating disorder treatment center among those with Anorexia or Bulimia.
Education Is Key to Recovery
In conclusion, it is important as professionals to educate ourselves on Binge Eating Disorder and for those suffering from these problems to receive specialized care and treatment to find freedom and long-lasting change. With actual diagnostic criteria for BED and changes in mental healthcare coverage through the Affordable Healthcare Act, there are now more avenues and access to help and healing.
The hope is that there will be more treatment options and insurance coverage to make treatment more readily available and affordable so that those with BED no longer have to suffer alone.
About the Author:
Dr. Jennifer Nardozzi, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist who has been working in the field of eating disorders for over the last 15 years. She works individually with clients and co-founded The BE Program an online program for women to transform food and body struggles. For more information about these programs, please go to www.thebeprogram.com