Eating disorders of all varieties are too often dismissed. Many people label them as signs of weak personal will or frivolously overstated drama. However, they’re very real, quite serious and can lead to some very severe health issues. The excellent news is that they’re also treatable.
Whether you or someone you love suffers from compulsive eating disorder, one of a suite of eating-related conditions, there are options available to ensure you receive the proper treatment. The information below discusses this widespread eating disorder, what causes people to take this path and the types of programs that have proven most successful in helping individuals resume healthy, productive lives.
Defining Compulsive Overeating and Similar Eating Disorders
Compulsive overeating is the defining feature of Binge Eating Disorder. Like other related eating disorders, this refers to a cycle of behavior that’s generally self-perpetuating and self-justifying. It doesn’t refer to the natural human behavior of occasional overeating, or even a Netflix marathon with pizza and a pint of ice cream. People who experience this disorder suffer from recurring episodes of binge eating while feeling completely unable to stop themselves. All of the orthodox signals of fullness are typically present, but are ignored. The disorder generally manifests at some point in adolescence or early adulthood.
It may begin as a mild case of comfort eating, in which the individual indulges in a favorite food after a hard day or soothes any upset with a snack. However, the behavior of binging differs sharply from enjoying comfort foods, specifically because there’s no enjoyment of the food consumed during a binge. Binging can have several patterns — some people engage in sessions as long as two hours, consuming food steadily and swiftly enough that they seldom actually register what they’re eating. Other people who overeat compulsively may binge off and on during the course of the day. The common feature of these patterns is that food is eaten even when no physical hunger exists and often continues past the threshold of physical pain.
Compulsive overeating is similar to Bulimia; however, it differs in a crucial way. Unlike with those who suffer from Bulimia, there isn’t an attempt to correct the overeating through purges, fasting or compulsive overexertion after the fact. Bulimia involves binge eating episodes and is the result of a need to conform to social beauty standards. Bulimic individuals engage in secret binging, for which they punish themselves afterward by purges and compulsive exercise. As this disorder progresses, they strive to maintain the appearance of normality by eating when and as expected, but secretly purging afterward.
The Underlying Psychological and Emotional Components of Eating Disorders
Geneticists have isolated a gene that may contribute to food addiction, and new evidence connects low serotonin levels — a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and is manufactured in both the brain and intestines — to the development of this habit. Many of those who suffer from binge eating disorder do so as a psychologically maladaptive reaction to stress — particularly, negative cultural attitudes and the expectation of impossible beauty standards.
Another cause of this disorder is environmental or clinical depression, respectively caused by external events or an imbalance in hormones and neurotransmitters. The brain is wired to release dopamine as a reward when eating — more so with sugar, fat or salt consumption. This essentially complicates a behavioral addiction and transforms it into a partial substance abuse issue. The largest problem with this is that the drug is one necessarily produced as a function of healthy behaviors.
Whether binging to assuage negative emotions — comfort eating — or as a response to cultural attitudes that assess thinness and perceived perfection on a moral scale, the emotional spurs for binge eating are well-documented. It has been noted that, since the behavior begins in the late teens or early twenties, the emotional and psychological roots of the disorder can be found in childhood experience. This often occurs in children who are exposed to frequent criticism about their bodies, which is then tied to overall beauty or worth, or those sexually abused at a young age.
Those who suffer from binge eating disorder seek food as a sort of patent nostrum for emotional or psychological turmoil spurred by daily stress. However, the pleasure lasts only a few moments before they’re again consumed with guilt about what they’re doing. This is because many individuals struggle with their weight, and the cultural perception that overweight individuals are less worthy, dirty, slovenly or even dishonest is constantly reaffirmed. Because the habit is rooted in seeking escape from emotional or psychological pain, exposure to this attitude — from family, coworkers or strangers — only further entrenches the disorder.
Getting the Right Help for Eating Disorders
What many people don’t know, since such disorders are often publicly trivialized, is that there are excellent programs to assist in breaking this addiction. It’s important to understand that the medical and therapeutic communities don’t take this disorder lightly. Specialists who are specifically trained to help you and the many others who suffer from eating disorders of all kinds are waiting to assist you — but you must ask for help.
General physicians may not be equipped with the knowledge or skills to adequately council people who suffer from behavioral addictions of this type. However, they can refer you to the right person. Nutritionists who study specifically relevant techniques for counseling and assisting people in regaining control of their eating habits are the best people to consult. This may take a few meetings with those less suited to help, but they’ll be able to refer you to the right people. Stay strong and keep it going.
The right specialist will assist you in designing a healthy eating plan, as well as offer specifically focused counseling about how eating makes you feel or how you feel before you eat. The specialist will teach you techniques to cope with negative feelings that are separate from food, so that you’ll no longer view food as a combination psycho-emotional palliative and something that hurts you.
Now that you’ve taken the first crucial step — looking for answers — call the hotline at 800-447-9081. Professionals are ready to offer resources, specialist listings and answer any questions you may have about following the path back to good health and happiness.