“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.”
Have you ever gone back for an extra serving of food when you weren’t hungry? How about mindless eating between meals on occasion? I’m sure most of us at some time or another took an additional serving (or two) of food or ate unplanned meals especially during holidays, birthdays, hurricanes and long weekends. Let’s face it temptations to over-indulge are all around us. But when is it a problem—an illness?
When was the last time you binged on a block of spinach or a bushel of apples? I’m willing to bet not too often. How about a box of brownies, chocolate chip cookies, or a bag of potato chips? Ah…hitting a nerve am I? If you watch your friends, acquaintances, or how about a stranger in a restaurant, I’m certain you will witness at every turn someone who binge eats. Do you?
So, what makes the difference between an occasional over indulgence and an eating disorder? When is it an eating disorder? And of course addiction plays into the mix too. What about food addiction? To make matters more confusing, when is it binge eating disorder and when it is food addiction? And, could it actually be a combination of the two?
Let’s face it, millions of Americans hide, steal, and hoard food anticipating a secret binge. After their indulgence they’re filled with remorse and shame promising to never over eat again. One of the least discussed and most common eating disorder is binge eating disorder. Binge eating is defined as over eating a large amount of food in a small period of time, at least three times a week for six months or longer. Binge eating, or compulsive eating—as it is more familiarly known—affects more than 20 million people in the United States alone. And yet, we focus more on bulimia nervosa and anorexia when it comes to eating disorders.
Although bulimia and anorexia nervosa are the eating disorders that pop into most minds when discussion of dysfunctional eating surface, in my practice, the majority of my eating disordered patients suffer from binge eating disorder and/or obesity. This isn’t to say all bingers are obese or even overweight, because some actually can be of normal weight. Also, not all overweight persons binge eat. And where does food addiction fit into the mix?
Confusing? Yes, for sure it is…
The biggest challenge is to sort through whether the patient has food addiction, binge eating disorder, or a combination of the two.
The food addict also eats a large amount of food in a small period of time, and like compulsive eating, it comes with consequences that can be lethal, such as obesity, heart disease, relationship issues, body image, and et cetera. The big difference between the two disorders is food addicts crave specific foods that are uncontrollable no matter what attempts they put forth to stop (i.e., dieting, restricting, exercising, et cetera).
I liken food addiction, an uncontrollable craving for high sugar and processed foods, to recreational drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and nicotine. And the food addict needs to consume the sugary/starchy substance in order to function—to feel “normal.” In all addiction cases, the substance dependent consumes larger amounts of their drug for longer periods than were normally intended with persistent desires or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit—even if it interrupts social, recreational, and family interaction—because the addicted substance takes precedence.
When it comes to treatment for binge eating disorder it is often not about the food but rather about the emotional deficits. When it comes to treatment for food addiction it is about the food—specific foods that trigger the compulsion to consume large amounts of it no matter what the cost. Although binge eating disorder and food addiction share many of the same symptoms, food addiction shares the emotional component of binge eating disorder as well as the symptoms such as obsession with body, weight, mood shifts, closet eating, stealing, where compulsive eating is about the inability to deal with emotions.
I suffered from food addiction and binge eating disorder as far back as I can remember—I just didn’t know what it was called. I thought there was something wrong with me mentally. I craved chocolate, doughnuts, chips, and anything gooey and sweet beyond normalcy and I tried every diet under the sun—including diet pills, commercial diet centers, starvation, over exercising, none of which helped me tame the compulsion to eat beyond full in spite of the detrimental consequences, which in my case was obesity.
I wish I knew then what I know now about eating disorders, treatment, and spiritual recovery. Perhaps I could have avoided all the pain and suffering with my weight up and my weight down—an endless battle—until now. Today, I live life without the torture of worrying about getting heavy, craving foods I can’t control the amount of. And spiritually my cup is full.
So, if you are one to eat an extra serving, two, or three beyond holidays, birthdays, hunkered down for hurricanes, and long weekend temptations, when you weren’t hungry, to the point of devastating consequences that hamper the quality of your life, perhaps you may suffer from an eating disorder such as food addiction, binge eating disorder (compulsive eating) or both intertwined.
My 20 years experience as a clinical psychotherapist, a PhD in addiction psychology, certified eating disorder specialist, certified addiction professional, and national board certified clinical hypnotherapist has not only made me a recognized expert in my field, but also made me privy to understanding the experience of those (and myself) releasing their obsessions with food and turning to their connection with the divine energy (known as God for some) and people.
Photos by Dr. Lisa Ortigara Crego