All too often when someone asks me what I do for a living and I tell them I’m a psychologist who specializes in treating eating disorders, they will jokingly say, “I have one those, I eat too much” and sometimes laugh and pat their stomach. As no laughing matter, in actuality, binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. An estimated 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and 30% to 40% of those seeking weight loss treatments can be clinically diagnosed with binge eating disorder. The disorder impacts people of all ages (including children and adolescents), races, and levels of education and income.
According to the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder (BED), the behavioral and emotional signs or symptoms include:
• Recurrent episodes of binge eating occurring at least once a week for three months
• Eating a larger amount of food than normal during a short time frame (considered any two-hour period)
• Lack of control over eating during the binge episode (feeling you can’t stop eating or control what or how much you are eating)
Binge eating episodes are also associated with three or more of the following:
• Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
• Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
• Eating much more rapidly than normal
• Eating alone out of embarrassment over quantity eaten
• Feeling disgusted, depressed, ashamed, or guilty after overeating
It is important to note that people with binge eating disorder tend to have higher rates of depression and other mood disorders, greater incidence of other addictions, and significantly higher rates of traumatic experiences. Therefore, it is crucial that treatment providers understand how to treat not only the eating disorder, but the co-occurring issues that contribute to and maintain binging behavior. The following excerpt from one brave client’s testimony of battling binge eating disorder highlights some of these facts:
“My addiction to food started at a very young age, about 4 years old. The insanity of using food to numb the fear, shame, pain and abandonment by my parents, an active alcoholic and drug addict, worked at the time to bring me comfort and enabled me to survive and function in my dysfunctional home. As I grew older and attended school I was ridiculed for being a fat kid and had few friends, I isolated more and more with the food, usually sugary, fatty, high-carb items. I ate in secret, I ate in my bedroom especially at night. I wanted to stop but could not. By the time I was almost through my first year of college I ate myself up to 265 pounds – gaining almost 75 lbs. in less than 9 months. I was gaining weight so fast I used to fall down the stairs – my sense of balance was off in more ways than one.
I used drugs, nicotine, speed and crystal meth as my own treatment to curb ‘my appetite’ and it worked for a while. When I was 23, I was introduced to the 12- step program Overeaters Anonymous; I was so unhappy with myself and my weight, but I wasn’t ready and left the program. I finally went back at 31. I was desperate and surrendered to the 12-step program, doing everything they told me, lost about 100 pounds, and kept almost all of it off for about 12 years. However, I relapsed when I thought I could try a little compulsive eating and some of my favorite sugary foods. This started the insanity of food addiction for me again, put on about 80 pounds, then my husband died in 2006 and I gained more and more weight until I weighed 330 lbs.
My primary care physician suggested I consider bariatric surgery and I met with a surgeon and a therapist. I started counseling for my eating disorder in 2010. After about 6 or 7 months of soul searching and therapy I decided to have Gastric Bypass surgery in February of 2011. The surgery, along with a recommitment to the Overeaters Anonymous program saved my life. I lost a little over 180 pounds and have maintained at least a 160 weight loss for about 5.5 years.
Regarding maintaining my recovery, I knew I didn’t have brain surgery (although sometimes I’d wish I had!) and it really helped me to see my counselor, attend support groups, and be very committed to my OA program. The gastric bypass, my new commitment to taking care of myself, and following all the bariatric surgery eating guidelines have been a life saver – I am much more aware of my actions and sometimes unhealthy behaviors with food and my 12-step program reinforces the fact that I truly have a food disorder, a compulsive eating disease that tells me “it’s okay” to start down that destructive eating path again! One day at time I do my best to choose not to do that.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with binge eating disorder, know that you are not alone and that help is available. The Chrysalis Center’s team of experts offers both therapy and nutritional counseling for binge eating disorder.
Kelly Broadwater, LPA, LPC, CEDS is a certified eating disorder specialist whose clinical practice is strongly focused on binge eating disorder, bariatric surgery patients, trauma, and addiction.