Binge eating: What happens when you can’t stop

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I recently got back in touch with my friend Matt whom I met in college. After the usual catching up, Matt told me that (in addition to getting engaged) he was hard at work fighting the eating disorder that he’d been dealing with. March is Eating Disorder Awareness Month, and I asked him if we could have a short interview to share his experience.

What kind of eating disorder did you have?

Well, I still have the eating disorder so it isn’t in the past tense yet; I have “binge-eating disorder.” Most people haven’t heard of that. When you say “eating disorder” most people think anorexia or bulimia—those are the ones that are talked about most. Binge-eating disorder is pretty much what it sounds like: I would eat and couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. I would just keep eating and then afterwards I would feel so incredibly guilty for eating compulsively like that. My guilt would make me want to eat more, which made it even harder to stop. I never made myself throw up, but sometimes I wished I could “uneat” what I’d binge-eaten.

Who is most likely to have an eating disorder?

They’re most common in teenagers and young-twenties. Women are more likely than men to have them, but I have one so men can obviously have them too. Even though high school and college aged people are most likely to develop eating disorders, they can also happen with children and older people. No one is immune.

When did you realize that you had an eating disorder and how did you figure it out?

I figured it out my senior year of college, about six months after the binge eating started. I figured it out from a pamphlet I picked up at the college’s health center. I was worried about my sister eating too little and thought she might be anorexic, so I picked the pamphlet to learn more about eating disorders. While looking through and thinking about her, I was surprised how many things on the checklist rang true for me. Guilt about food? Check. Uncontrollable urges to eat? Check. The list went on. When I thought about eating disorders I had only ever thought of super skinny people and not eating enough or purging—it had never occurred to me that my uncontrollable eating might be an eating disorder. I just thought I had bad self-control.

What were the effects that you experienced from the binge-eating disorder?

Other than the shame and guilt and depression each time after binge-eating, I was also gaining weight. A lot of weight. Right before I realized I had a problem I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol—both of which have started to get better as I’ve gotten my eating and my weight under control.

 What did you do to stop binge-eating?

While medication and nutrition counseling were options for me, I wound up being okay just going to a mental health counselor and participating in a support group. Medication didn’t seem right for me, but I know a lot of people in my support group who found anti-depressants and nutrition counseling were lifesavers. Everyone’s different as to what works best for them.

Any suggestions for resources?

My primary care doctor helped me a lot, but some immediately available online resources I found helpful were http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/  and NIMH’s publication http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders-new-trifold/index.shtml.

JCS also has resources available. Look for “Body Image and Eating Disorder Resources” under the “Get Help” on ifiknew.org

Written by Chris M. contributing blogger

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