I first entered the world of treating eating disorders as a young practicum student and I brought many preconceived notions about the nature of eating disorders with me. It was common for me to have thoughts like, “Isn’t this just attention-seeking behavior?” or “How hard is it to just eat that piece of pizza-aren’t you hungry?” As my time and experience grew, I learned that eating disorders were less about food and more about the internal struggle that goes on for so many men and women who have difficulty making peace with their minds and bodies.
When I recently shifted into working with individuals struggling with Binge-Eating Disorder (BED) during my year of residency, I discovered that it is not uncommon for many young professionals, unaware caregivers, and playful friends to joke around with new phrases. “Binge-Eating? Oh ya! I totally suffer from that,” or, “Make it a Double-Double, it’s the BED ordering this time.” Although these phrases are made in a humorous tone, it does not undo the stigma that most individuals with BED face on two paradigms. First, those with true BED are made to feel like their disorder is a joke, a lapse in self-discipline or willpower. Second, the people who are making such statements are really saying more about possible transgressions they feel towards themselves when ordering larger portions (a whole other topic to discuss!). Furthermore, it is not uncommon for many insurance companies to deny coverage or shorten length of stay for individuals suffering from BED due to the lack of immediate health complications. This practice is not only incorrect and detrimental, but also sends a message to those struggling with BED that they might not be “sick enough” for care.
Just the Facts
I’d like to dispel some preconceived notions readers may have about BED by presenting some facts. Binge Eating Disorder (BED) has recently become the most common eating disorder in the United States (Swanson, 2011). According to World Health Organization, the prevalence of BED within the USA has created a significant influx in healthcare costs and those seeking psychological treatment. With the release of the DSM-5, BED is now a diagnosable disorder. This change was made to distinguish between overeating that many Americans experience and the less common and more severe diagnosis of BED. Per the American Psychiatric Association’s Feeding and Eating Disorders Factsheet:
Binge eating disorder is defined as recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control. Someone with binge eating disorder may eat too quickly, even when he or she is not hungry. The person may have feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or disgust and may binge eat alone to hide the behavior. This disorder is associated with marked distress and occurs, on average, at least once a week over three months.
A Growing Curiosity
As my clinical experience grew, I quickly learned that research is sparse and limited regarding BED and treatment outcomes, personality profiles, therapy success-rates, comorbidities, and other related medical issues. While completing my residency, I was astounded by the reports my patients made regarding feeling ostracized for their disorder. On one hand, I could sympathize with my patients about how misunderstood they felt being compared to people with Anorexia. “People see me and they don’t understand how powerless I am to food; they just think, ‘well here is another fatty who can’t put the donut down,’” one of my patients lamented as a group of her peers nodded. On the other hand, I would time after time hear medical professionals struggling to understand why these patients were highly avoidant and resistant to treatment when they had gone through such extreme medical procedures as bariatric surgery: “It’s like they want us to do all the work for them, and if we can’t fix them in one quick session, we have got it all wrong!”
Feeling supported by my clients and encouraged by my director, I was afforded the opportunity to investigate the unique struggles that individuals identified with Binge Eating Disorder face after a bariatric procedure (i.e. LapBand, G-band, Gastric Sleeve, Gastric By-pass surgery).
Join My Investigation
Join me this week via Thero.org’s Facebook and Twitter pages as I travel to Hollywood, Florida to present on this research at the International Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) conference. Along with raising awareness, my plan is to educate the community of mental health and medical professionals about this specific population as well as suggest treatment considerations based on these findings!
Looking forward to keeping Thero.org’s followers posted throughout this weekend!
Danielle Gonzales, PsyD is an author for the Writer’s Bureau and is our Social Media Advisor. She has a her doctorate in psychology specializes in Eating Disorders and Personality Disorders.