An additional, key takeaway from the recent article I posted about, which examines the morality assigned to certain body types & disorders, was that the media, and society at large, don’t believe that overweight/obese people can have eating disorders. This is due, in large part, to it being ingrained in our culture, via the “pulling ones self up from one’s bootstraps” mentality and other factors, that being fat is a CHOICE, and that with WILLPOWER any fat person can, you know, NOT be fat.
Let’s talk about what is being called binge eating disorder, also known as food addiction. Binging disorder is essentially like bulimia but without purging — an individual is compelled, beyond reasons many can understand, to binge on massive quantities of food. Unlike bulimics, they don’t purge that food (vomit or take laxatives). Here is the Mayo Clinic definition of binge eating disorder:
Binge-eating disorder is a serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food. Almost everyone overeats on occasion, such as having seconds or thirds of a holiday meal. But for some people, overeating crosses the line to binge-eating disorder and it becomes a regular occurrence, shrouded in secrecy.
When you have binge-eating disorder, you may be deeply embarrassed about gorging and vow to stop. But you feel such a compulsion that you can’t resist the urges and continue binge eating.
Although binge-eating disorder is the most common of all eating disorders, it’s still not considered a distinct psychiatric condition. But if you have binge-eating disorder symptoms, treatment can help you.
How sad is that? It’s one of the MOST COMMON eating disorders (hello “obesity epidemic”), yet is not considered a distinct psychiatric condition, like anorexia nervosa.
I would reckon that binge eating disorder sounds familiar to a lot of you. It does to me. While I don’t see myself as a comic picture of a woman sitting on the couch shoveling ice cream, chips and candy into her mouth, I know I have an inappropriate relationship with food, and eat for the wrong reasons. I definitely eat when I’m full and/or not hungry — two of the many symptoms. And I can PUT AWAY massive quantities of food in a relatively short period, for no reason. The only difference between me and the “average” obese American is that I’ve been binging on “healthy” things for the last ten years. This is why we can’t assign moral values to food — it’s not about WHAT you are eating. It’s WHY and HOW. Any unhealthy relationship with food is concerning — not just those who eat “bad” foods.
In the Saguy/Gruys study, finding articles that talked about binge eating disorder was difficult, and in fact articles from the main analysis time frame didn’t exist. Two articles from 2007-on were found, but even those refused to believe that obese/overweight people could have a legitimate disorder, like an anorexic or bulimic.
This, I find, is ridiculous. These eating/food/body disorders are all related, but I believe they manifest in people differently. We always read stories of the high-flying, popular, pretty (middle class white) girl who suffers from anorexia — how could she she is so successful and has it all? Cue (very accurate) discussion of how the individual is so desperate for control over the one thing they have complete autonomy over — their body. I think it’s the same in people with binging disorder — I know it is for me. I was that high-flying (middle class white) girl who had all my shit together — but instead of seeking to control my body by restricting food and striving for a super idealized body type, I rebelled against it — food and eating (and binging) was the one area of my life where I could LOSE control without it having what I saw as “real” consequences (ie: grades wouldn’t drop, etc.). I also think some part of me wanted to rebel against body standards — to my own detriment. (does that give me more feminist street cred, or is it just kind of sad?)
People need to break away from the idea that fat people are to blame for their problems. Do individuals make choices? OF COURSE. But you know what? Someone who is anorexic or bulimic makes a choice not to eat, or to eat and then purge. We examine WHY they make those choices. And we recognize that there are complex, underlying reasons for these compulsions, generally beyond individual control and most often times requiring professional, long term help. Yet we deny this same reasoning and help for the chronically overweight/obese – who quite likely have an eating disorder equally as insidious. The difference is that society heralds thinness, but reviles fat. And the chronic fat hate and negative, critical talk that obese individuals face make their disorder worse, never better. (shaming never works!)
This is why I advocate dropping food guilt. It’s why I don’t believe in the SHEER WILLPOWER diet. It’s why I embrace body positivity and community support. There are dozens of complex factors at play with weight struggles and food addiction. Everyone is already telling you you don’t have “real” problem, and that you just have to be stronger, better, faster, thinner. STOP saying that shit to yourself — someone needs to stand up for fat people with real, clinically diagnosable problems. I’m afraid, at this juncture, that it needs to be YOU (and me).
What do you think? Do you think you have a problem with food addiction and/or binge eating disorder?