By Sunny Sea Gold, Glamour magazine
You may remember my name from when I chronicled my 20-pound weight loss with the Body by Glamour plan a few years ago. Exercise and diet tweaks helped me shed the pounds, but I wouldn't have been able to succeed if I hadn't first dealt with something I'd been silently struggling with for years: binge eating disorder.
It's normal to overeat once in a while, but my habits were not normal; I'd binge several days a week, and feel disgusted with myself every time. And I wasn't alone. Research shows the disorder-also known as BED-is more common than bulimia and anorexia combined. It can lead to digestive issues and weight-related problems like diabetes, but scarily, "a lot of doctors aren't recognizing BED-they just tell patients to lose weight," says Johanna Kandel, executive director of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness. But you don't have to be overweight to have it. Here, four habits people with BED share:
Eating in Secret
It's almost universal: Binge eaters feel ashamed of their food habits and take great pains to hide them from family and friends. "I would go for a drive and order as much Taco Bell as possible, then eat it in my car because I didn't want anybody to see," Hillary, 24, says. And Katrina, 26, admits: "Last week I bought a bunch of junk food from my office's vending machines and took it all into a bathroom stall to eat it. It was gross and humiliating."
Craving "Bad" Foods
The guilt and excitement around starchy, sugary foods make binge eaters crave those "bad" foods the most. (Carbs make the brain release feel-good serotonin, so some researchers suspect there's a chemical link, too.) My binge concoctions usually centered around sweets; I once mixed peanut butter in the jar with sugar and maple syrup. Sometimes cravings for certain foods take binge eaters to places they never thought they'd go-like the trash. "I ate a half gallon of ice cream," recalls 20-year-old Rachael. "I threw the rest away, but later fished out the tub and finished it off."
Putting Food First
For a binger, eating alone brings a (temporary) sense of comfort and release that being with people can't. "I used to wish my boyfriend would leave so I could eat everything in the fridge," Rachael says. "I'd rather stuff my face than have fun or make love."
Lying About Eating
Finally, binge eaters rarely tell the truth about what, or how much, they eat. "At fast-food restaurants I'd act like I was taking an order from a friend on my cell," says Isabel,* 22. "But really it was all for me."
If any of these symptoms sound like you, it's time to get better. Three tactics that worked for me:
Pause. It sounds simple, but anyone who has felt the compulsion to eat knows how hard restraining yourself is. Still, if you can pause for five minutes to try to figure out the emotional need that's driving you to eat, and a healthy way to fill it, you may avoid a binge, says Jennifer Nardozzi, a psychologist at the Renfrew Center of Florida.
Ask for help. A therapist (find one at nationaleatingdisorders.org) or a support group (like those at Overeaters Anonymous) can work with you to rethink your relationship with food.
Get active. I make a conscious effort never to think about calories when I work out-instead, I move my body because it improves my mood and clears my mind.
After a few years of hard work, I'm fully recovered and at a healthy weight. I even have foods in my kitchen, like cookies, that used to send me into binges; they're snacks, not compulsions. Consider me proof that you can beat this-and be happy again.
Sunny Sea Gold is a deputy editor at Redbook and the founder of healthygirl.org. This piece is adapted from her new book, Food: The Good Girl's Drug; How to Stop Using Food to Control Your Feelings.
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