The biggest public misconception about binge eating disorder I see is that binge eating is about willpower, about a weakness of character in some way, and that somehow people should just be able to “stop.” The general understanding is still that this is “diet failure,” not an eating disorder, with a biopsychosocial etiology, deserving (and requiring) treatment on the same order as anorexia and bulimia.
The biggest clinical misconception is to focus too much on behavioral change (specifically weight loss) instead of real recovery and real healing. The clinical community is a product of our weight-biased culture, and the impact of this on treatment of binge eating disorder must be addressed. The primary focus of binge eating disorder treatment needs to be understanding the psychological role food plays and how to care for the body, not weight loss.
The biggest internal misconception for clients is that binge eating disorder is evidence of their pathology, of craziness or weakness. I firmly believe that binge eating disorder, for the vast majority of people, is an attempt at self care. To view binge eating disorder as an attempt to survive, to soothe, to escape, is to meet the behavior with compassion and understanding.
As for common challenges people face when trying to overcome binge eating disorder or problems with overeating:
From a cultural perspective, we begin to teach people to distrust and dishonor their bodies from childhood. We do not, as a society, value size or shape diversity; in fact weigh bias and stigma fundamentally underlies any eating disorder. “Thin” has to be presumed more valued for the symptoms to coalesce. We are taught to distrust our food preferences and our appetites, especially as girls, from early in life. We are taught to “exercise,” but not to play. Children learn their bodies are to be controlled, not honored. So the ability to hear cues, to really feel the positive impact of playing and eating well, typically must be relearned.
Additionally, weight and being “fat” is so completely vilified now that the idea of body wisdom is more remote than it has even been. We have a “war on obesity.” Literally now people are encouraged to be at odds with their bodies. Then, we are sold a profound “bill of goods” by the diet industry (with a 95% failure rate over 6 months), further removing us from simply listening to our needs. The current system makes recovery a veritable act of defiance. You have to be a renegade just to be in your body.
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