Binge Eating Disorder in the Military

by Highlands Treatment Center

Binge Eating Disorder in the Military


Our friends at The Highlands Treatment Center have penned an excellent post on stress and BED.  If you are interested in reaching them for support or further questions, please follow the link in this article.

US Military with Flag

Binge eating disorder often develops as a coping mechanism in people who know no other way to handle negative emotions or stressful situations. That’s why, on reflection, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of our nation’s strongest and most committed individuals struggle with this very disorder.

Binge Eating Disorder and Our Military

Everyone knows that a career in the military is highly stressful. Whether in active duty or training, in combat or on a base, these men and women face pressures most civilians can’t imagine and develop methods to help them cope. Sadly, these methods aren’t always healthy. Military personnel may feel dismayed at the lack of control they can exert on their environment, so they turn to the only way they know they can exercise control while at the same time comforting themselves. They begin falling into the patterns of eating disorders.

While binge eating disorder is not as well-known to many as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, it’s estimated that as many as 15 million people in the United States struggle with it. And it appears to be a particular problem among military personnel, as evidence suggests that even more members of the military suffer from eating disorders than civilians. While exercise bulimics work out to the point of exhaustion without having eaten in order to lose as much weight as possible, those in the military need to maintain a certain weight, not to mention maintaining a certain level of physical strength, so going without food is not an option. What binge eaters will do, then, is engage in binge eating and work out even harder in order to stay at a weight which is acceptable. Some will even starve or take laxatives before physical tests in order to meet requirements. In fact, this ritual of going to extreme measures right before being weighed in could trigger eating disorders in people who aren’t currently suffering but who are vulnerable or who at one time practiced disordered eating.

And while there have been reported cases of men going to extremes in order to make their weight requirements, binge eating disorder or any eating disorders are far more prevalent among female members. And it makes sense upon reflection. Not only do women already face body image issues in civilian life, in the military they frequently feel as though they need to prove themselves worthy and in many cases work even harder than their male counterparts. The stress is even greater for these women, then, and the likelihood of developing an eating disorder as a means of coping or staying in control is higher.

Is There a Solution For Binge Eating Disorder in the Military?

With eating disorders and other harmful practices surrounding the need to stay at a certain weight level so prevalent in the military, it seems as though there should be a plan in place to help military personnel overcome these obstacles in a more healthy manner. However, when reading stories of the distant treatment military personnel receive after revealing the fact that they’re sick, it would appear as though we have a long way to go when it comes to making sure that members of our military are given the help they need in terms of treatment for binge eating disorder or other forms of disordered eating. While it would appear as though great strides have been taken to protect our servicemen and women through addressing issues such as PTSD – and rightly so – there are many more pieces to the puzzle which still need to be covered in order to give our military the support it needs.

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