Food is central to our daily life, but what if food becomes an obsession? What if you can’t stop eating, despite the fact that it’s the one thing you want most? Well, you’re not the only one: there are many others who are compulsive eaters.
Binge-eating behavior disorder
We are both familiar with binge-drinking and binge-eating, but really, what is binge-eating? Simply put, a binge-eating episode involves eating too much in too short a time, losing control of oneself in the process, and feeling guilty afterwards.
This may already be a problem for those who binge occasionally, but those who binge regularly can suffer both physically and mentally and may be diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
Binge-eating disorder debuted in the DSM-5, but, of course, binge-eating has been around for a long time. People with the disorder often feel powerless to stop eating, feel numb during these episodes, and rush to eat as much food as possible, as fast as they can. «My hands were not attached to my mind, and I could only stop when I felt so full that I wanted to vomit.»
Episodes of binge-eating
Food consumed in a binge-eating episode can add up to 15,000 calories in total, and may include every type of food imaginable (although vegetables are rarely consumed in such an episode).
Patients have reported eating up to several large pizzas, full loaves of bread, boxes of donuts, uncooked pie dough, and jars full of peanut butter. In this binge-eating process, some may skip chewing altogether, and some people even resort to eating from garbage cans or consuming foods that are still completely frozen. However, these are the extreme examples.
Less extreme episodes of binge-eating are much more common: about 13% of the general population has infrequent episodes of binge-eating. According to DSM criteria, a binge-eating episode contains at least 2,000 calories, which is easily achieved with these fast foods, a maxi bag of M&Ms, 12 stroopwafels, two large bags of potato chips, or 49 cheese twists.
Negative feelings and emotions
However, it is not enough to say «she is fat» or «she is addicted to food». ED is a real mental disorder, although it is highly stigmatized and barely recognized. Just like a casual Netflix binge on Sunday afternoon, a binge eating episode can make you feel guilty, sad, angry or ashamed.
These types of negative emotions can be associated with your weight, your figure, or «cheating» on your diet, and are facilitated by constantly weighing or checking yourself.
The negative emotions often lead to even stricter dieting and even harsher rules regarding food, which will only lead to you getting hungrier, and more and bigger binges, which again leads to more negative emotions. Reading this, it should come as no surprise that PTSD is under-diagnosed and under-treated.
This is where the real obstacles lie. Doctors in primary care are not yet knowledgeable or experienced enough to recognize this new diagnosis. This, combined with patients’ failure to seek help (partly due to embarrassment and lack of awareness), is the perfect recipe for under-diagnosed mental illness, even if there is sufficient help available.
With all this strong-tasting, high-calorie food available to please our brains, binge eating is a growing problem and is still largely under-reported and under-recognized.
The bad spiral that follows a binge leads to more restrictive eating and, finally, more and more binge-eating. While it may seem like a behavior that only you engage in, you are not truly alone. If you feel that your binge-eating is affecting you too much, speak to your doctor about your options and enter your comments below.