Saturday, February 3, 2007

The "New" Eating Disorder

There it was, on the NBC Nightly News--a new study out of Harvard that identifies America's most common eating disorder, "far outpacing" the better-known and more openly discussed problems of anorexia and bulimia.

The disorder, of course, is binge eating or compulsive eating.

After untold secret frenzies of eating behind closed doors for years and years and years, I finally (duh) recognized that I was a binge eater not all that long ago. You might think it should be obvious. And I knew I overate--how could I miss that? Yet somehow I never linked overeating with being a binge eater. There is a difference.

The difference, I think, that lies in the secrecy of it. (Except you wear your secret for the world to see every single day.) You eat like a bird in public, but when you're alone you can consume a whole lotta food in not a whole lotta time.

In the Harvard study, which they called "the first national census of eating disorders," they found that 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men suffer from binge eating, which they defined as "bouts of uncontrolled eating, well past the point of being full, that occur at least twice a week." I suspect the number is higher; it's not something one wants to admit to.

Ah, control. What a difficult word. McLean Hospital's Dr. Harrison Pope, the author of the study, likened the binge eater's relationship with food to an alcholic's relationship with alcohol. There's a siren song that makes you plan your binge, prepare for it, and relish it with abandon. There might be a thought that goes through your head, something like "you're out of control, woman." But there's some buzzing overdrive in your head that drowns it out and makes you not care. The guilt and the shame--and more and more weight--come later.

I have to admit that fighting the urge to binge is my biggest battle in weight loss. I fight it every single day. Some days I lose. More days than not, lately, I win. Recognizing it for what it is has helped.

Now, you may not believe there is such a thing as a "binge eating disorder," and that it's just gluttons indulging their gluttony. And my recent recognition of my own binging as an "eating disorder" doesn't mean that I'm abdicating my responsibility. I'm not sitting back and whining: "It's not my fault--I have an eating disorder" and then using it as an excuse to continue the behavior.

For me, anyway--I can only speak for me--the recognition of the disorder simply gives my own demon a name. I think God gives us all challenges to face and through the facing of them we grow. Or in this case, shrink.

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