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Mental Health Myth Buster

Mental Health Myth-Busters: “Binge Eating Disorder is Something I Have, Not Something I Do”

According to a new commercial for Vyvanse, binge eating disorder is like the measles or the flu. It’s something you have, not something you do. It’s an “illness” completely unrelated to your behavior. Therefore, the treatment of choice is Vyvanse or some other prescribed medication. This is very misleading.

So what is binge eating disorder (BED) anyway? A binge episode is defined as consuming an excessive amount of food in a relatively brief period of time accompanied by a subjective loss of control. A person is diagnosed with BED when they binge eat at least once a week for the past three months.

In other words, binge eating is a behavior. It’s something you do, not something you have. And that’s actually the good news. It means that by changing your behavior, you can end the disorder. CBT teaches you how to do this.

First, CBT focuses on monitoring urges to binge so you’re less likely to act on them reflexively or mindlessly. We do know that binging is typically preceded by periods of food restriction and hunger. People often binge in response to negative emotions they want to dull or escape as well. Individuals with this disorder also tend to think in extreme ways about food. CBT teaches people how to change their eating habits, beliefs about food, and their strategies for handling negative emotions.

To date, there are over 8 published research trials proving that CBT is effective to treat binge eating disorder. These are not findings you would expect for a behavioral treatment if binge eating disorder were something you have, not something you do.

Sure, CBT is not as simple as swallowing a pill. But on the bright side, there is no increased risk of sudden death, stroke, or myocardial infarction. If only the same could be said for Vyvanse.

Dr. Lisa Napolitano

Published February 26, 2016

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