Previous: How Basic Psychology Can Save Kids' Lives
Next: If You're Reading This, You've Reshaped Your Brain



View count:73,497
Last sync:2024-05-22 18:30
When you think about an eating disorder, you might imagine restricting or purging food. But the most common eating disorder has nothing to do with either of those, and chances are you’ve never heard of it.

Hosted by: Hank Green
Support SciShow by becoming a patron on Patreon:

SciShow has a spinoff podcast! It's called SciShow Tangents. Check it out at
Huge thanks go to the following Patreon supporters for helping us keep SciShow free for everyone forever:

Matt Curls, Sam Buck, Christopher R Boucher, Avi Yashchin, Adam Brainard, Greg, Alex Hackman, Sam Lutfi, D.A. Noe, Piya Shedden, Scott Satovsky Jr, Charles Southerland, Patrick D. Ashmore, charles george, Kevin Bealer, Chris Peters
Looking for SciShow elsewhere on the internet?

Image Sources:
[ ♪INTRO ].

When you think about an eating disorder, you might think about restricting food, like in anorexia, or purging food like in bulimia. But the most common eating disorder has nothing to do with either of those.

It's called binge eating disorder. These days when we hear the word ‘binge,' we mostly think of watching like 6 episodes of the Netflix show in one day. And If you're less TV-inclined, maybe you think of binging on food.

Say, on Thanksgiving. But what if you found yourself overeating like that multiple times a week? What if it felt like a cycle, and it got really difficult to control?

This is what it's like for people with binge eating disorder. And even though it's easily the most common eating disorder, chances are you've never heard of it. Binge Eating Disorder, or BED's primary symptom is frequent, seemingly uncontrollable food binges that create feelings of distress or guilt.

If you're thinking, “Yeah, I've gotten that extra-large pizza all for myself before, and I felt pretty terrible after,” you're thinking more of over-indulgence than binging. Those with BED often eat even when they're not hungry — even when continuing to eat is upsetting. During a binge, they'll eat a lot of food, super fast, until it's physically uncomfortable to eat any more.

Binges are often planned in advance, with ‘special' food purchases. Sufferers often try to hide their atypical eating by eating alone or hiding food they've purchased specifically for binging. But while the binges may be planned, when people are actually in the middle of a binging episode, it's not uncommon for them to just zone out, then struggle to stop or even remember everything they've consumed.

And even though it's less likely to be on your radar than anorexia and bulimia, studies have shown that BED is over three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined. Like, in a study from 2007, researchers asked nearly ten thousand Americans about their experiences with various mental health conditions. And they found that 3.5% of women and 2% of men had BED at some point in their lives.

That's a pretty massive number, and it doesn't just make BED the most common eating disorder. It makes it more common than breast cancer, HIV, and schizophrenia. So it's something worth paying attention to.

It was only officially recognized as a stand-alone eating disorder in 2013, so at this point, we don't know everything about what causes B. E. D.

But research seems to show that it has some genetic basis. Of course, your DNA doesn't determine everything about your mental health, so genetics isn't the only factor here. Stress may play a role, too.

Some evidence for this comes from a study published in 2006 in the journal Psychiatry Research. It compared 162 black and white American women with B. E.

D. to the same number of women without it who matched their demographics. After interviewing these women, the study found that, across the board, those with B. E.

D. had a lot more stressful events in the year before their symptoms began. These triggering events could be anything from a passing comment about their body shape or weight, to work or school stress, abusive relationships, or major life changes. Outside of this study, research has also found that other psychological factors can contribute to B.

E. D., too, such as anxiety, low self-esteem, obsessiveness, and perfectionism. But people can also be born with differences in their brains that make them more likely to develop B.

E. D. For example, a 2013 systematic review analyzed 51 articles on B.

E. D. and found that when compared to obese people without BED, people with the disorder had stronger responses to food rewards, meaning food likely had more influence over them. They were also more impulsive, and many of the studies showed evidence that those with the disorder were more likely to act spontaneously, or even recklessly, in their day-to-day lives.

Brain imaging studies have also backed up these findings. For example, a study from 2014 used brain scans to show that people with B. E.

D. had less activity in the part of the brain that handles inhibitions. But really, that's just one piece of the puzzle. There appear to be other things happening in the brains of those with binge eating disorder, and honestly, scientists haven't quite gotten to the bottom of it yet.

That doesn't mean they don't know how to treat this condition, though. People seeking treatment are often prescribed a course of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This type of therapy aims to make people aware of how their behaviors are connected to harmful beliefs.

And that awareness can help minimize behaviors like binge-eating. This approach is often effective, but those who need a little extra may be offered antidepressants to alleviate symptoms related to B. E.

D., like depression and anxiety — which can make therapy more effective. Like many other psychological conditions, B. E.

D. is complex and there's no silver bullet to treat it. But the more we learn about it, the faster we can get working on finding new and improved ways to recover. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych.

Next week you're going to start seeing a new host around here, so before we go, I want to introduce you to Anthony Brown. Come up, Anthony Brown! Hello!

Anthony: Hey, How are you doing?

Hank: You are a man of many talents. You are an actor, a father, a beat-boxer… Can you beatbox for me? [Anthony's Beat-boxing].

Hank: Oh, wow you really are! We're really glad to have him, and we hope you'll join us in welcoming him to the team. Anthony: Thanks, Hank. I'm excited to be here, and I can't wait to explore some really weird science with you all.

Hank: That's what we're all about! Anthony: I'll see you next week! [ ♪OUTRO ].