Binge eating disorder (BED) is an illness where sufferers are addicted to food. It can be viewed as an impulsive-compulsive spectrum disorder (as, too, can shopping addiction). Also known as compulsive overeating, this disorder causes huge damage to a sufferer’s physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. It is also becoming more and more prevalent, with some studies indicating that 20% of women will experience difficulties in this area during the course of their lifetime. It is also the eating disorder most likely to affect men: studies suggest that 40% of compulsive overeaters are male.
Sufferers of this disorder will experience an obsessive-compulsive relationship with food, where food is used to control or avoid distressing and uncomfortable feelings. Over time, self-hatred and negative feelings will become worse. Periods of binge-eating will be followed by shame, guilt, despair and remorse. Unlike sufferers of bulimia nervosa, compulsive overeaters will tend not to purge or use laxatives to get rid of unwanted calories. However, there may be a migration towards the abuse of alcohol, drugs and other addictive behaviours as a way of managing the growing emotional distress. People suffering from a compulsive eating disorder are likely to binge in secret, so as to avoid the shame and humiliation of losing control in front of others.
They will feel unhappy about their weight and this negatively impacts across all areas of life. Much as an alcoholic uses alcohol to escape worries, a compulsive overeater will also use food to escape from reality and, as with the alcoholic, experience less and less freedom over their ability to choose to eat or not eat. There will be a lot of shame and remorse after overeating and a history of failed attempts to diet or cut down or control calorie intake.
There may also be phases where, consistent with the widely held but erroneous belief that all someone with an eating disorder needs to do is either eat more (if anorexic) or less (if an overeater), sufferers will have tried extreme, starvation dieting. This may have worked for a period of time, but because core problems were not addressed, will have inevitably ended in relapse.
Compulsive overeating, if untreated, can cause numerous health problems: obesity; tiredness; high blood pressure; type 2 diabetes; high cholesterol; stomach cancer; heart disease; sleep apnoea; hypertension; and joint problems. The solution to compulsive overeating is not dieting. Instead, recovery requires psychological therapy that gets to the heart of the core emotional disturbance, the development of healthier ways of managing feelings, strong peer support, 12-Step fellowship participation, dietetic input, structured meal planning, and effective behavioural therapy that creates meaningful and long-lasting behavioural changes.
Are You an Over Eater?
If you’re unsure answer the following questions and see if you relate to them…