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Setting Misconceptions About Binge Eating Disorder Straight

According to research be NEDA, as much many as 2.8 percent of Americans will experience binge eating disorder (BED) in their lifetime, making it the most common eating disorder in the United States. Even with the instances of BED being at such an alarming rate, this is perhaps one of the most commonly misunderstood eating disorders, even to the point where people may think BED does not require help from eating disorder recovery centers. Part of the reason that people who need binge eating disorder treatment nearby do not get it is that so many people do not see the condition as a serious disorder.

Because it’s so misunderstood, binge eating disorder sufferers may not acknowledge or understand they have a disorder, let alone seek out binge eating disorder treatment near them. There is an unfortunate tendency for people to blame the symptoms of BED on overeating or a lack of willpower. As a society, the best way to foster understanding is to first get the myths and misconceptions out of the way. Let’s examine some of the misconceptions that prevent people from getting the binge eating disorder treatment they need:

Misconception #1: Binge eating disorder is nothing more than eating too much.

Binge eating and overeating are too often used interchangeably but people who aren’t in the know. A clear example is joking about “binging” at Christmas or Thanksgiving. However, binge eating disorder and overeating are two different things. Having a second piece of pie on a holiday is very far removed from having an actual eating disorder. People in need of dedicated binge eating disorder nearby or at a remote inpatient facility have a strong feeling of losing control during their binge eating episodes, and this goes far beyond simply eating past feeling full or satisfied.

The difference between BED and overeating can be determined by looking at the symptoms that go beyond just the act of eating more than what would normally leave someone feeling full. Some of the binge eating disorder symptoms include:

  • Being unable to stop eating or losing control of that ability
  • Consuming food hurriedly or too quickly
  • Eating to the point that it causes actual physical pain.
  • Binging in secret, out of feelings of shame about the disordered behavior
  • Feeling high levels of guilt, shame, disgust or extreme mental anguish after eating too much.

The main difference from someone who is merely overweight or overindulges from time to time and someone with binge eating disorder is that the latter will have an inability to control the act of eating too much even though they know it is harming them. This often comes with intense feelings of shame about the binge eating episode. While many people who occasionally overeat might feel guilty about taking that dessert after a meal or going for a second helping, this is an occasional slip without feelings of compulsion to engage in binge eating sessions. Someone who has BED would be more likely to continually take in more and more food, in secret or away from shared mealtimes in spite of knowing the need to stop or feeling the physical effects of what they are doing.

Symptoms of BED can also vary according to the individual, which can make the condition hard to catch even for the people closest to them. For example, some people who have BED will binge on food regularly or even daily, while other people may only binge on food occasionally when the mood hits them.

Misconception #2: “Just don’t eat so much!”

This plays into the common myth that people with BED just don’t have any willpower; simply eating less is not the solution for someone who has BED. Binge eating disorder recovery centers and the medical community have classified BED as one of many psychological conditions centered around eating – and this binge eating disorder was finally listed in the latest DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which was published in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association. According to the National Eating Disorder Association:

“The previous DSM-IV was released in 1994 and binge eating was only listed in Appendix B and had to be diagnosed with the non-specific “EDNOS” (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified).”

Unfortunately, the lack of consensus diagnostic criteria made it difficult for people with BED to obtain proper binge eating disorder treatment near them because the symptoms weren’t officially recognized leading to misdiagnoses and occasionally insurance problems when seeking treatment. Luckily, the most recent update of the DSM may be changing that. Before that update, there were thousands of research studies performed and submitted to prove that people with binge eating symptoms could have a real, psychological condition that needed treatment, and now they can be put into practice.

Treating BED through binge eating disorder recovery programs is a highly variable process that has a lot to do with the individual who is being treated. sometimes private counseling with a non specialized therapist or a day treatment program is the best course of action, while others with BED may choose to go in for residential or inpatient treatment. The process of treatment can involve multiple levels of therapy, including:

  • Traditional talk therapy sessions
  • Family therapy and education to create a good family support system
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Individual nutrition counseling sessions
  • Nutritional rehabilitation and stabilization
  • Food and feelings therapy sessions to establish the underlying causes of behavior

Binge eating disorder treatment is ideally personally designed to help the individual with BED learn to improve their relationship with food and eating as well as replace the disordered binging actions with healthier coping mechanisms. This kind of treatment allows the individual to recognize things that trigger binge eating behaviors and understand how they can control their symptoms. Just the act of eating less, following a diet, or controlling food intake is not enough to treat BED – in fact, dieting is often a contributing cause in the development of the disorder.

In many cases, people who are diagnosed with BED have attempted to follow diet plans or restrict their eating, but in private engage in binge eating episodes. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for other psychological conditions to be at play, such as mood disorders, anxiety or even OCD. Therefore, it is critical for those receiving treatment to find a place that can build a unique, individualized plan for treatment.

Misconception #3: Everyone with BED is overweight.

People who need binge eating disorder treatment nearby don’t always have the same body types or sizes. Many people who are unfamiliar with all the symptoms of BED, including the body dissatisfaction and frequent extreme dieting that often accompany it, think that BED sufferers are always overweight. However, there is no truth to this misconception. It is true that people who have binge eating disorder may be intently focused on their body image or losing weight, and of course, many BED patients do gain weight because of their eating patterns. However, many people with BED will diet to such an extreme level that the binge episodes don’t lead to noticeable weight gain.

Roughly two out of three people who have BED are overweight, so weight gain can be related, but not a definitive result of having the condition. Additionally, most overweight people do not have BED – the emotional and compulsive behavioral aspects of the disorder aren’t present.

Misconception #4: Binge eating disorder only affects adults.

Binge eating disorders can affect people of all ages, including both men and women, as well as all races and socioeconomic backgrounds. Up to 1.6 percent of adolescents have shown signs of developing binge eating disorder, compared to 3.5 percent of adult women and roughly 2 percent of men. Because of this, parents should take care to keep an eye out for the classic signs of BED, including rapid weight gain, preoccupation with dieting, and hoarded food/food wrappers.

Children can sometimes be harder to diagnose with binge eating disorder. There are a few things to be aware of as a parent who suspects their child has BED, including:

  • Find that food has gone missing from the fridge/pantry
  • Finding hidden food containers/packaging in the child’s room
  • Witnessing a change in the child’s behavior, like avoiding meals or spending more time in their room
  • Seeing a major change in the child’s eating patterns, such as when they eat
  • Drastic weight changes
  • Frequently trying out new diets
  • Obsession with body weight

It is also important to realize that just because an adolescent eats a lot, it does not necessarily mean they are portraying binge eating symptoms. Especially during puberty, both boys and girls are growing rapidly and require more food than they normally needed beforehand. It’s also a time when their body is changing quickly and they are becoming interested in attractiveness, which can influence their body image. Too much parental pressure regarding what the kids eat and about their weight can inadvertently push them towards disordered behaviors like BED.

Binge eating disorder requiring treatment is more likely to develop during adolescence than in early childhood, and the causes can be hard to pinpoint. There is some evidence that suggests children under a lot of stress or who have problems with anxiety and depression may be more at risk of developing eating disorders in general.

About half the people diagnosed with binge eating disorder also have a co-occurring mental health disorder, like general anxiety or PTSD. There are several possible contributing factors, however – some studies also report that about half of the risk for BED can be blamed on genetics.

Better Education for Better Understanding

The more the general public is aware of binge eating like a real psychological disorder, the better it is for those who are struggling with the condition. The mistruths, misinformation, and misconceptions that surround eating disorders, in general, allow these issues to be not taken with the seriousness that they should be, especially when it comes to BED. Symptoms of BED can be disregarded and overlooked by family members and loved ones who are under the impression that the condition can be something basic like just tending to overeat. However, BED is a serious issue that does need professional attention to the health of the individual.

At Monte Nido, we treat all eating disorders with the professionalism and compassion that is required for the delicate situation. We provide both outpatient care and counseling and residential programs for adolescents and adults who have portrayed binge eating disorder symptoms. Our luxurious facilities are designed to provide comfort during treatment, and we are capable of treating co-occurring disorders most professionally. Reach out to us for a consultation.


Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.