BEAT, binge eating, binge eating disorder, biology, control, Durham University, eating behaviour, eating disorder, eating disorders awareness week, excuse, loss of control, obesity, psychology, understanding
When talking about an eating disorder, what do we mean? According to many publications, eating disorders are “severe disturbances in eating behaviour” (DSM-IV). The line of discussion for this article is whether we should see obesity as an eating disorder.
Between 1980 and 2003, the prevalence of obesity has been said to have tripled within the UK. This has meant that around 61% of the UK population can now be classified as either overweight or obese (UK Obesity Statistics, 2010). What is interesting is that not all people are obese. Some individuals are seen to be tall, skinny, athletic or muscular; this has led some researchers to say that weight gain will differ between individuals with some being more resistant than others (Heterington, 2007).
Research has identified some biological aspects to obesity, specifically relating to traits that will influence hunger, satiety or even the response to certain food cues. Psychological traits that are commonly associated with this impulsive eating relate to reward sensitivity (Davis, 2009). Binge eating has been found to be a common factor for many individuals that are obese (around 45%). What is interesting is to identify that certain ethnic groups are also more susceptible to being ‘heavier’, particularly ethnic minorities (Flegal et al., 2010). Interestingly, Flegal and others identified that around 44.1% of Black individuals were classified as obese compared to White individuals of 32.8%.
If there are external causes, does that mean it is not the individual’s problem? Not necessarily, what is being outlined here is that simply identifying that an individual is obese does not mean that this may be due to simply eating ‘too many cupcakes’. Other factors are at play. It is common for many individuals who experience obesity to be facing stigma day-to-day, and are ridiculed both face-to-face or by the media. The media has actually been shown to cause obesity to be seen as an issue for the individual rather than an issue that may relate to other biopsychosocial issues, such as hormones, depression or family relations. A study conducted by Demo et al. (2012) identified those individuals who watch ‘The Biggest Loser’ and do not have any weight issues themselves are more likely to be prejudice towards those who are classified as overweight or obese. Many actually begin to believe that this shows clearly how obesity is due to the individual rather than other mitigating factors.
Should obesity be considered as an eating disorder? Per se, psychologists do not consider obesity to be an issue of mental health. Rather, they recognise that certain eating behaviours can be atypical. Therefore, in the DSM V ‘Binge Eating Disorder’ was created as an eating disorder in its own right. This does not necessarily mean the individual is obese. Instead, the individual will have recurrent episodes of binge eating which will commonly relate to non-stop eating lasting up to 2 hours, with the amount of food being larger than most people would eat in a similar period. There will be a sense of control loss relating to these binges, with many having marked distress due to their behaviour. What differentiates Binge Eating Disorder from Bulimia, discussed yesterday, is that individuals with Binge Eating Disorder do not show any compensatory behaviours for their binging behaviour.
In many ways obesity can be controlled; this can be through appropriate dieting, exercise and recognition of ones abilities. Nevertheless, losing weight is difficult for most individuals; the maintenance of low weight can be even more difficult due to the body trying to defend a set point weight. Therefore, the body will go into “hunger mode” and will slow down metabolic rates and cause the individual to feel less full following meals. Therefore, relapse rates with weight loss are very high.
Just remember that obesity, although not recognised as an eating disorder per se, still has causes that may be outside of the individual’s control, and it does have long-term negative effects such as depression. It should be recognised that there are difficulties attached to losing weight and that certain individuals, despite trying, do find it difficult to lose weight. Yes, it might seem fun to poke fun at individuals who may be heavier, but think about the long-term consequences of that behaviour. It can result in self-esteem issues, body dysmorphia, or even suicide.
If you have been effected by what you have read, or wish to gain further information on Binge Eating Disorder, then following the links below. Telephone numbers have been provided if you wish to seek advice, but if you are a member of Durham University we do suggest the Counselling Service, or to speak to in house College teams, such as Welfare Officers.
BEAT: 0845 634 1414
MIND: 0300 123 3393
Nightline: 0191 334 6444
Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90