Trigger warning: The following article contains information regarding eating disorders, specifically bulimia. Please read with caution.
There is much to be said about the glorification of Eating Disorders (EDs) in society. Despite EDs being severe, debilitating mental illnesses, they are often romanticised by society. Certain behaviours pertaining to these disorders are simultaneously stigmatised, demonised and glorified.
Much of the focus surrounding glorified or romanticised EDs has been on restrictive Eating Disorders, particularly those that result in weight loss, such as Anorexia Nervosa, and to a lesser extent, Bulimia Nervosa. Instead, there has been little mention of Binge Eating Disorder (BED) in this conversation, an often overlooked and dismissed ED by non-professionals and professionals alike. BED was only officially recognised as its own diagnosable eating disorder in 2013, in the DSM-5. Binge Eating Disorder is defined as a recurrent pattern of binge eating; eating to the point past fullness, eating as though you have no control, and eating excessive amounts of food in one sitting – without compensatory behaviours such as vomiting, overexercise, or laxative use. Despite the lack of attention given to BED, the glorification of eating disorders and specific disordered eating behaviours impacts those who suffer from BED as much as it affects those with restrictive Eating Disorders.
A major example of the glorification, and to a lesser extent the normalisation, of binge eating is the multitude of “10,000 Calorie Challenges”, “50,000 Calorie Cheat Day”, and other similar clickbait titles that can be found all over YouTube. Though these types of videos had their peak in popularity around 2019, they still continue to amass large amounts of views. These videos usually consist of conventionally attractive, thin, athletic individuals (a large majority of these content creators are self-professed “Fitness YouTubers”) consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time for entertainment. The videos follow a similar structure; these thin individuals show off their figure at the beginning of the day, struggle through masses of food throughout the day, followed frequently by a brief period of euphoria.
They end the videos displaying their painfully bloated bodies and a small talk section where they go into details about their feelings before, during, and after this overconsumption. A glaring issue with videos like these is that they clearly indicate fatphobia and diet culture at work. If a fat person were to recreate the same videos, they would receive intense amounts of backlash for “glorifying obesity”. In terms of this type of content reinforcing diet culture, often the videos are positioned as a “cheat day” with the consumption of typically “unhealthy” foods, thus pushing the idea of “good” and “bad” foods. Furthermore, there is the underlying suggestion that binge eating is an active choice, as these creators are able to show themselves overconsuming on food one day and successfully able to restrict their intake or eat “normally” the next. Conversely, with those who suffer from BED, bingeing is an uncontrollable response to emotional distress.
This type of content damages those with BED as well as the general understanding of the disorder in society. Eating challenges, cheat day videos, and 10,000+ calorie challenges intentionally, or unintentionally, contribute to the glorification of binge eating by normalising this behaviour or making it seem “healthy in moderation”. Yet, Binge Eating Disorder and those who suffer from mental illness are still not taken seriously at all. This is an issue that plagues all EDs; many interpret eating disorders as an active choice, but this notion is particularly pervasive with BED due to rampant fatphobia present in the world today. Bingeing is already a culturally misunderstood act. It is wrapped up in the idea of willpower and self-control, primarily due to the influence of diet culture and the upholding of the thin ideal.
In turn, people who clinically suffer from bingeing are not taken seriously, are blamed for their inability to stop bingeing, told that they are “failures”, and urged to lose weight by medical professionals and non-professionals alike (though, ironically, restrictive eating often triggers further binges and keeps sufferers trapped in their EDs for longer). Struggling with BED does not necessarily mean that one will be of larger body size, but we can’t ignore the association of fat bodies with binge eating and thus the influence of fatphobia preventing sufferers from seeking help.
Image: Artem Labunsky via Unsplash