Body image is one’s personal perception about body shape, size, weight, and appearance. Vision, thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations are components of body image. Eating disorders and bad body image are often closely linked. The strong desire to lose weight/alter one’s physical appearance, when it is not health-related, is often a byproduct of low self esteem, distorted body image and a lack of self and body acceptance – all of which can lead to the development of an eating disorder. But what happens when the objective isn’t always to lose weight?
Binge Eating Disorder (BED), newly recognized in the DSM-5, is characterized by recurrent episodes of compulsive eating, without any compensatory behavior to avoid possible weight gain. Unlike Bulimia or Anorexia, binge eaters do not throw up their food, exercise a lot, or eat only small amounts of certain foods. Because of this, binge eaters are often overweight or obese. People with binge eating disorder also may:
- Eat more quickly than usual during binge episodes
- Eat until they are uncomfortably full
- Eat when they are not hungry
- Eat alone because of embarrassment
- Feel disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating
Individuals who suffer from eating disorders often show negative self-image. Anorexia and bulimia are more directly connected to body image, and the person with these eating disorders will behave in ways in which they believe make their self/body image improve – usually by losing weight. However, the binge eating cycle works a little differently.
With Binge Eating Disorder, there are more emotions involved, which are connected to the actions of the disorder. BED is an emotionally driven eating disorder, so these feelings contribute to the cycle and keep it perpetuating. First, the person may be dieting or restricting – which is a part of BED. The person may have body image issues and want to lose weight, as with anorexia and bulimia. However, someone with BED will experience anxiety about restricting and being able to follow through with the diet or plan they’ve devised. They will eventually break the diet or fast because of physical or emotional needs, which leads to the binge. After they’ve binged, the person feels guilt, remorse and fear of weight gain. The person with BED will then try to get back in control of themselves and the situation by dieting or restricting again, which starts the cycle again.
In a paper aimed to assess Binge Eating Disorder prevalence and self-image disorders among university students in the city of São José do Rio Preto, Brazil, a survey had the participation of 217 undergraduates. The following polling information was included in the study: a personal data questionnaire, the Binge Eating Scale and a figure scale. In the surveyed population, 12.90% showed BED. Most subjects (86.32%) chose larger figures when compared to their current BMI, overestimating their body size. BED individuals showed higher self-image inadequacy in comparison to people without the disorder.
There are certain personal characteristics that may make someone more likely for to develop BED. A sense of self worth based on weight, the tendency to use food as a means to feel in control, dichotomous & rigid thinking (an “all or nothing” mentality), perfectionism, poor impulse control and inadequate coping skills are qualities that can contribute to Binge Eating Disorder. A few of these characteristics also apply to Bulimia and Anorexia.
Eating disorders are usually portrayed as a means to control one’s weight. However, regardless of positive or negative body image, Binge Eating Disorder uses food to soothe emotions. Body image can absolutely play into the feelings of guilt and shame, but BED revolves around the emotions associated with binge behavior. Therefore, when considering treatment options, it is not only important to address the nutritional issues of BED, but also the underlying emotional issues that are causing the impulse to use food.
If you are interested in following along with BED Week, you can join the event on facebook or follow it on twitter by using the hashtags #BEDWEEK, #DSM5, #BEDAWARENESS, #EATINGDISORDER and #ED.