BED: From Judgment to Compassion

by Camille Williams, MA, LCPC, Eating Disorder Specialist

rsz_1istock_000000974029small_woman_thinking_seriousBinge eating disorder (BED) is the most misunderstood, neglected, and judged of the food-related disorders. Most often rather than acknowledging BED as a compulsion, addiction to food and a struggle with being powerless over food, it is denied or blamed on the individual. Eating disorders feed off of judgments because food and body image is often a place where people search for a false sense of self-worth. There is also a fear of judgment with eating disorders, which leads to secrecy and isolation in the midst of dangerous and miserable struggles.

Labels that are placed on food such as “bad”, “unhealthy”, or “junk food” can result in an individual feeling shameful when eating foods deemed “bad”. This also contributes to a cycling of behaviors including yo-yo dieting, restricting and bingeing, and other extreme measures with food. This type of relationship with food is not sustainable and results in returning to bingeing behaviors. Each relapse back to behaviors reinforces and increases shame.

Individuals who struggle with BED often feel a lack of self-control, will power, and discipline. Other common judgments and criticism associated with binge eating behaviors are fat, lazy, and a lack of motivation. Our society reinforces these beliefs and family members and friends might make similar comments. These beliefs are internalized and become a core part of the identity of many with BED, which often results in a deep self-loathing. Due to the judgment and shame, individuals struggling with bingeing keep behaviors secretive and have a difficult time seeking treatment and support.

It is also necessary to point out how much judgment is associated with binge eating compared to restricting behaviors that are often praised. Binge Eating Disorder is seen as a problem with the person, and anorexia is seen as an external issue that is outside of the individual; certainly, there are still judgments with anorexia, but not to the same degree as BED. This is a very dangerous belief because individuals with Binge Eating Disorder are struggling just as much with food and using food for the same emotional reasons. Therefore, it is detrimental to shame a person with BED. Blaming and judging someone for bingeing only keeps them farther away from a successful recovery and a healthier relationship with food.

This is the reality regarding BED. Here’s an alternative to the judgments. Be aware of this issue and call it what it is – an eating disorder. It is a real problem and one that a person is struggling with. Showing empathy to someone with BED will help provide a space of understanding, care, and kindness. This could lead to increased honesty, openness and feeling supported. All these things are essential to the healing process of BED. Let go of judgments about food and bodies. All foods provide nutritional value when consumed in moderation and in a balanced fashion. All bodies are different and looking at someone’s body cannot give information about internal qualities such as work ethic, motivation, and also health. Applying this approach can help immensely with the recovery process of those with BED and also help provide health and acceptance of all people.

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