Removing the Stigma Surrounding Binge Eating Disorder

Holly Philpott

Eating disorders not only physically impact their sufferers but also largely affect their emotional and psychological wellbeing. Whilst it is arguable that more is being done to raise awareness surrounding eating disorders, Holly Philpott declares that the stigma surrounding Binge Eating Disorder, abbreviated to BED, is still heavily prevalent and damaging. 

After reading an online article from Glamour, I chose to research Binge Eating Disorder (BED), as it became clear that there’s still a lack of coverage surrounding it. The article’s writer, Catherine Renton, described her own struggles with BED as a younger adult, where binge eating became a ‘coping mechanism’ during challenging periods of her life (such as work and relationship troubles). Renton explained how BED affected her life in multiple ways, including the inability to focus on anything but food, as well as feelings of guilt and exhaustion. 

Binge Eating Disorder is defined by the NHS as regularly eating a lot of food over a short period of time, despite feeling full. Similar to other eating disorders, it can look and feel different for every person going through it – no two people will look the same or experience exactly the same symptoms. Yet, with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure among the possible symptoms, BED is a disorder that needs to be taken seriously.

So, why is BED seemingly lacking the attention it deserves? 

Why does BED get much less coverage in the media?

One shocking statistic comes from a 2017 study, which found that BED made up 22% of eating disorder cases. In comparison to the two most well-known eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia (accounting for 8% and 19% respectively), BED seems to be responsible for more eating disorder cases than expected – after all, it is arguable that anorexia and bulimia are presented far more in the media. 

One reason why BED may have less coverage is due to negative stereotyping. Weight gain, despite the damaging misconceptions, shouldn’t be seen as a signpost for BED, yet this seems to form the basis for how the illness is characterised. 

Stereotypes around BED are incredibly harmful, and don’t consider the distress people face

Renton also discusses how stereotypes around body type and shape affected her experience with seeking help. After realising that she wanted to improve her attitude towards food, Catherine booked an appointment with her GP, who told her that she was “overweight” and that she “needed to diet” –  invalidating words which somebody with an eating disorder should never have to hear. 

Many others have also experienced the impact of negative stereotyping surrounding BED.  According to Martha Williams, Senior Clinical Advice Coordinator at Beat, BED faces a ‘misconception that binge eating is down to greed or a lack of willpower’, which ‘can stop people reaching out for support’. Stereotypes around BED are incredibly harmful, and don’t consider the distress people face.

This is evident of weight and body stigma, a decades-long issue that has been in the media for far longer than it ever should have been. Historically, weight loss is celebrated, whilst weight gain is seen as undesirable. For example, fatphobic attitudes blossomed on 2000s shows such as America’s Next Top Model, where judges made body-shaming comments on young people labelled as ‘plus-sized’. Although body-positive content is circulating more on TikTok and Instagram, the 2000s/2010s Photoshop era is still lurking on our phone screens. It is no wonder, therefore, that stigma around body shape has an effect on how people feel about seeking support.

In the USA, BED was added to the official manual of mental health disorders in 2013 – only a decade ago

The actual diagnosis of BED could be contributing to public misunderstanding. Erin Parks, the co-founder of online recovery platform Equip, argues that symptoms for eating disorders can overlap – BED symptoms can link with bulimia – which could have an effect on awareness and misconceptions. When considering the distinctions between anorexia and bulimia, and how symptoms for these can cross over with BED, it can be understandable how BED has become lost in media representation. 

In the USA, BED was added to the official manual of mental health disorders in 2013 – only a decade ago. This means that many thousands of people may not have been diagnosed due to a lack of official diagnosis, or they may have been misdiagnosed entirely. Erin Parks describes that, although clinicians should take care when differentiating between different eating disorders when diagnosing patients, a full checklist doesn’t have to be met to make an official diagnosis.

It’s evident that BED requires more awareness not only in the media, but across healthcare. Although the majority of those with BED should receive the attention and support that they deserve, this number is often affected by stereotypes, by not meeting an exact symptoms checklist, or because of misconceptions surrounding the illness. How can we ensure that people feel seen and understood when finding support?

How can we remove the stigma surrounding BED?

More awareness needs to be done to defy the misconceptions and negative stereotypes surrounding BED. Beat’s Martha Williams points out that BED ‘can affect anyone regardless of their weight, shape, age, gender, race or background’, and attaching stereotypes is harmful and incorrect. Many still campaign tirelessly for more support and awareness of eating disorders and are pushing their messages to government and healthcare officials, resulting in further campaigns and pledges for change.

It’ll take time to fully spread awareness for eating disorders, and to completely disregard the stigma surrounding BED. One thing I am certain of though is that the path to that is relentless, and I hope that full inclusivity will one day be a reality.

For more support and information following this article, please look at the following webpages for the NHS and Beat Eating Disorders.

Holly Philpott

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash+ via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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