Nan was once one of the millions of Americans who struggle with the most common eating disorder: binge eating disorder. A recent Harvard study found that approximately 7 million people have the disorder, which affects 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men. “I couldn’t stop eating. I started eating compulsively when I was
Nan was once one of the millions of Americans who struggle with the most common eating disorder: binge eating disorder. A recent Harvard study found that approximately 7 million people have the disorder, which affects 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men.
“I couldn’t stop eating. I started eating compulsively when I was nine years old and it finally ended when I participated in Overeaters Anonymous for three years. I stopped bingeing when I was 32,” Nan says.
Once more commonly known as compulsive eating disorder, in 2013 binge eating disorder was finally labeled a mental disorder in the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The diagnosis of binge eating disorder requires that a person eat an excessively large amount of food in a two-hour period at least twice a week for six months, experience marked distress regarding the practice and feel a lack of control over their compulsive eating.
Nearly half of people with binge eating disorder have suffered from depression at some point. “Overeaters Anonymous made me see I was looking at what was eating at me and in my case, I grew up in family that was non-feeling and narcissistic. I was a hyper-feeler and had a different intelligence than they did so when I opened my mouth I was told I was crazy you and wrong so I had to swallow those feelings. Instead, I overate. This is not about food. It is a behavioral and an addiction problem,” says Nan, a behavioral scientist.
Caryn Honig , a registered dietitian and adjunct faculty member in the Department Health and Human Performance Center at the the University of Houston, agrees.
“It is a coping mechanism for deep underlying issues. In my 20 years of treating people with this disorder, I found they use food and abuse food as a way of either numbing feelings or way of control them. Then it becomes such an addiction. It is a highly addictive disorder,” Honig says.
Sarah began bingeing in college. “I became addicted to sugars and flours. My body craved it. What happens when you go to a substance for emotional reasons, your body starts clinging to it for chemical reasons. I never binged on broccoli. I always binged on either sweets or cookies or things that were unhealthy and gave me an instant high.”
Dr. Pam Peeke’s book, “The Hunger Fix,” reports the latest neuroscience research on how unhealthy processed foods get people in a vicious cycle of overeating and addiction. The neurotransmitter dopamine rushes into the body the same way with certain foods as it does with cocaine.
Treatment has to include dealing with the addiction, says Joan Ifland, chair of the Council on Food Addiction. “Like any substance-based addiction, treatment is based on soothing the brain. This is done by avoiding processed foods, especially sugars, sweeteners, flour, excessive salt, processed fats, dairy and caffeine. It is also recommended to avoid reminders of these foods and to avoid intense emotions. A balanced, unprocessed food plan helps. Other activities that soothe the brain include exercise and sleep,” Ifland says.
“What’s important for people to understand is that food is just a coping mechanism,” Hogin says. “There are other underlying issues, so it is not about putting someone on a diet or an exercise program. It is a mental illness and must be treated as such. “
“This has nothing to do with weight,” says Nan. “It is about getting your feelings out of your mouth. You have to stop swallowing them. That is why the 12-step program worked for me. You talk it out. You have a sponsor. You plan your meals. You don’t skip meals. You eat in public. Binge eaters tend to hide because they are so ashamed. But there is hope. You just have to change your behavior.”
A recent Harvard research study found binge eating disorder is commonly accompanied by other psychiatric illnesses. In their survey, 79 percent of those with binge-eating disorder had at least one other psychiatric diagnosis.
“There are some drugs being used to treat cravings for this disorder, but we hope now that it is considered a mental illness since 2013 by the medical community, more research will help us find better treatments and perhaps those can be covered by insurance,” Hogin says.
The names of former binge eaters remain anonymous to protect their confidentiality.
For more information, watch “Food Addiction with Joan Ifland” on “Living Smart with Patricia Gras” on YouTube.
By Patricia Gras