The Binge-Eating Stigma

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Lisa Autz

By Lisa Autz

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When Netflix released an all-you-can-eat buffet of complete seasons for shows such as House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black many happily immersed themselves into the new binge-watching culture. This growing practice of overdoing it has not surprisingly infiltrated our lives in more ways than just our entertainment consumption.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Binge-eating disorder (BED) is one of the most common types of eating disorders today and has been recently added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013.

The medical disorder is characterized by the continuous overconsumption of eating in a short period of time with episodes in feeling a lack of control, and marked by a reoccurring distress which would occur, on average, in individuals at least once a week for over three months.

BED is one that begins with body image according to Leora Fulvio, a psychotherapist specialized in eating disorders and the author of Reclaiming Yourself From Binge Eating: A Step-by-Step Guide to Healing.

Fulvio spoke with BTR on the recipe for such a disorder and how it is really a compensation mechanism for people who are often dealing or have dealt with trauma.

Those afflicted by the disorder have this sense that “My life is never going to be okay and I’m never going to be okay and then the food starts to become a drug,” says Fulvio. “The food becomes symbolic and the process in eating becomes about losing hope and feeling so lost.”

She continues to remark on how the accessibility of heavily processed food is also a contributing factor, saying that people are usually addicted to foods like chips, which have become so processed that they are chemically addictive substances.

Across the nation, binge-eating affects every race, ethnic group, and socio-economic status, yet only 57 percent of those with BED ever receive treatment. Many of whom are men who make up 40 percent of those with BED.

Still, our perception of eating disorders is usually reduced to a severely thin, young, white woman looking at herself distorted in a mirror; but that image is not an accurate portrayal of the great diversity of victims, both male and female, that suffer from a very complex disorder.

Author, speaker, and consultant at NEDA, Claire Mysko, sat down with BTR to discuss how the media stereotypes eating disorders and how it adds to the stigma for men and others to receive treatment.

“It’s difficult for those struggling with the disorder because they don’t feel themselves represented,” says Mysko. “You see the extremes of anorexia in our culture but there is a full spectrum of eating disorders.”

Thinking of binge-eating in such a monochrome way also leads to an unawareness of the disorder in the first place. The result is men, in particular, continue to view the disorder as a “women’s issue” and fail to respond to the fault within themselves, Mysko adds.

A man claiming a dissatisfaction with his body or just seeking psychological help in general faces higher levels of gender role conflict against traditional masculine ideals, according to NEDA. And as with the media obsession with the perfect female body, men are now falling on too-high expectations for an unattainable muscular physique.

Mysko’s work at NEDA involves overseeing Proud2BMe.org, a website that launched in 2011 with a goal of creating social activism in teens to change those exact warped media perceptions. Within Proud2BMe today is a community specifically for young people suffering from eating disorders that want to create a culture that does not facilitate their own problematic experience in others.

Benjamin O’Keefe, an actor, activist, and ambassador at Proud2BMe.org, shared his story with BTR on his struggle to defy gender stereotypes and how it ultimately allowed him to get the help he needed.

“I felt like I couldn’t reach out for help because people wouldn’t respect me if I did,” says O’Keefe. “The resources online, as well, were all in pink and purple and weren’t telling me that what I was going through was something other men were going through too.”

Those at Proud2BMe.org worked towards creating a gender-neutral site where all those that were suffering could voice themselves on the various forums and initiate real social changes in areas they felt it was needed.

O’Keefe, for example, took the shame and disrespect from coming out with anorexia and honed his voice into a campaign against Abercrombie & Fitch’s refusal to produce plus-size clothing.

The controversial comments by the CEO of the teen-targeted clothing company has described his clothing as for the “cool kids” and that plus-size clothing was not part of that demographic. O’Keefe then teamed up with NEDA in May 2013 to create a campaign urging the company to provide clothing for the real sizes of women in America.

After a year of negotiation, the company finally produced a size 14 and X-large sizes for its women’s wear.

“We got a company to change their line of clothing and hopefully their line of thinking,” says O’Keefe, who collected over 74,000 signatures on his petition. “We all have a story to share and even though sharing that story could be difficult, you then have the power to make a change to someone else’s story.”

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