Tomorrow, millions of Americans are planning to eat waay too much at Thanksgiving dinner. For some reason, Thanksgiving is a day when ‘dinner’ time is always 2 pm, and it’s socially acceptable to stuff yourself before falling asleep in front of the television. This behavior is almost certainly harmless when conducted in isolation, but as a society we often lionize such excess (immortalized in hot dog and pie eating contests). What other messages does this send?
For the first time, the fifth rendition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) includes ‘binge eating disorder’ as a distinct condition. In previous versions of the DSM it had been included under the catch-all – ‘eating disorder, not otherwise specified’ (ED-NOS).
Characterized by repeated episodes of eating large quantities of food accompanied by a feeling of loss of control, binge eating disorder is now considered to be the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting 3.5% of women and 2% of men. Unlike anorexia or bulimia, individuals with binge eating disorder don’t engage in compensatory behaviors, meaning that this condition can lead to considerable weight gain over time.
Binge eating has been normalized in American culture, particularly in our holiday celebrations. This may prevent many people from ever seeking out treatment for what may be pathologic behavior. It is important to raise awareness about eating disorders, particularly among men – the culture of silence around mental health appears even stronger when the ‘problem’ is related to food. Unlike alcohol or drug abuse, one cannot simply abstain from food, making professional treatment a particularly important component of recovery.