Approximately 2.8 million American adults suffer from binge eating disorders — a common mental illness characterized by recurring episodes of overeating where the sufferer feels a lack of control and intense amounts of guilt following a binge, according to the Binge Eating Disorder Association.
Even more common is the misconception that B.E.D. only affects young, white women.
There isn’t much data on the prevalence of eating disorders in people of color, but certified eating disorder specialist and family medicine physician Dr. Lesley Williams asserts that many Black women (and men) may be suffering in silence due to shame or misinformation on what they see as “just a little” overeating from time to time.
“B.E.D. is the most common eating disorder,” Williams told BlackDoctor.org. “But at the same time, it is the least talked about.”
Williams said oftentimes the issue goes deeper than overeating, however, and may signal the presence of some sort of emotional distress. Not having the proper outlets to release that stress — whether it be talking to someone, exercising or other enjoyable activities — could very well trigger a bout of “emotional eating.”
“Oftentimes in the African-American community, we don’t talk much about mental health,” she said. “So, frequently, someone may be facing some kind of distress and not know how to manage it. Instead of talking to someone about it, they look to food as a form of comfort.”
Williams also noted that in her practice, patients rarely divulge information when it comes to pigging-out on their favorite snacks to cope with emotional stress. She said oftentimes food is sought as an alternative to professional help, therapy and even medication.
This is also the case for Black children and teens who may be dealing with stress from school — more specifically the school bully.
“In some cases, we see children where they are one-of-a-kind, like the only African-American in their environment,” Williams explained to BlackDoctor.org. “They feel out of place and may not have the words to communicate that, so they turn to food for comfort due to feeling like the odd man out.”
So when is the time for someone struggling with B.E.D. to finally seek professional help?
Williams said professional help is needed once the disorder begins to disrupt the sufferer’s daily life or they start to gain a considerable amount of weight. However, she pointed out that there are number of ways to identify and tackle both the underlying and physical issues associated with the disorder. According to BlackDoctor.org, these include medications, multi-faceted treatment plans, consultations with a dietician and activities that keep the individual active.