And that's just one many myths about binge eating, according to recovered binge eater Sunny Sea Gold, the author of "Food: The Good Girl's Drug." Keep clicking as Gold dispels 10 more dangerous myths about a condition that affects surprising numbers of women - and men too.
Myth: Binge eating isn't a real disorderSome say binge eating disorder is a fake disorder - a term people use as an excuse to keep eating. In fact, binge eating is a real disorder that's listed (along with anorexia and bulimia) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the "bible" of mental illness.
The DSM currently lists binge eating as an eating disorder "not otherwise specified." But psychologists are considering giving binge eating disorder (BED) its own entry when the new DSM comes out in 2013.
Myth: Binge eaters have no willpowerThink binge eaters just sit around at home stuffing their faces? Actually, many binge eaters are highly successful people with plenty of drive and determination. Binge eating disorder actually compels people to eat - just as alcoholism compels people to drink. There's now mounting evidence that, for binge eaters, eating activates specific regions of the brain in much the same way that using cocaine or heroin lights up specific brain regions in substance abusers.
Myth: Binge eaters should just go on a dietDieting can't "cure" binge eating disorder. In fact, traditional calorie-restriction diets can actually trigger binges, even in people who don't have binge eating disorder. (Overeating is a normal reaction to deprivation - just ask anyone who's been on a diet!) Scientists have even turned lab rats into binge eaters by taking away their favorite foods.
What does help people overcome binge eating? Psychotherapy and support groups such as those offered by Overeaters Anonymous.
Myth: Binge eaters are fatSome binge eaters are overweight, but not all. Many binge eaters use crash diets to maintain a normal weight - even though they might take in 2,000 or more excess calories on a daily basis. Some binge eaters are actually underweight.
Myth: Binge eating is a female thingEating disorders are more common in women, but men suffer too. Studies suggest that about 2 percent of American men have binge eating disorder, as compared to 3 percent to 5 percent of women. Roughly one in five eating disorders of any kind are diagnosed in men.
Myth: Binge eaters just don't know when to stopMany binge eaters know all about portion control. But binge eating disorder compels them to keep going beyond the point when they feel comfortably full - even if the food is burnt or spoiled or has dropped on the floor. Believe it or not, many binge eaters say they've lost the ability to enjoy food.
Myth: Kids don't binge-eatBinge eating behavior has been seen in children as young as six. Any parent who suspects that a child is sneaking food, hiding food, or experiencing a loss of control around food should consult a child psychologist or psychiatrist with experience in treating eating disorders.
Myth: Recovery means avoiding "trigger foods" foreverSome people think recovering from binge eating means avoiding certain foods - the same way alcoholics generally must avoid alcohol for the rest of their lives. Sugary, fatty, or carbohydrate-rich foods can trigger binge eating in some people, and many people with binge eating disorder choose to cut back on these foods for a while. But most people can safely eat these foods once they've recovered from binge eating disorder.
Myth: Surgery is the key to recoveryGastric bypass and other forms of weight-loss (bariatric) surgery can sometimes eliminate diabetes and other physical problems caused by obesity. But it can't eliminate the psychological disorder that causes people to binge-eat.
Following weight-loss surgery, some former binge-eaters find they are unable to eat as much food as they once did - and so become heavy drinkers or compulsive shoppers as a result.
Myth: Doctors are the go-to expertsDoctors may not be the best expert to consult if you or a loved one has a binge eating problem - and no wonder, since medical schools often place little emphasis on eating disorders.
When it comes to getting good advice and effective help for binge eating, a psychotherapist or dietitian who specializes in eating disorders may be your best bet.