Eating is an American pastime associated with joy and celebration. But eating can get out of control for some people.
Overeating once in awhile is ok, but when a person binges on a regular basis it can become an addiction just like drug abuse. See the article How Sugar Hijacks Your Brain and Makes you Addicted by Kris Gunnars who runs Authority Nutrition, a well respected and well researched site where Kris declines from eschewing personal opinion for the cold hard facts and backs them up with scientific facts and studies.
At the other extreme are those who starve themselves and suffer from anorexia. Both of these extremes are considered eating disorders that affect millions of women all across the globe. Often these disorders go unrecognized and untreated.
“It’s a very complex issue and a lot of times the individual is struggling with depression or anxiety,” says Dr. Debra Vinci, an eating disorder specialist at the University of West Florida.
“It’s a continuum that’s characterized by a loss of control at either end of the spectrum,” Vinci added.
Compulsive overeating is a disorder marked by eating binges that sometimes last several days. While the compulsive over eater may lose weight occasionally, she will tend to gain it back again.
Bulimics, on the other hand, over eat and then purge with laxatives or vomiting.
Finally, anorexia, which is at the other end of the spectrum and is probably the most easily recognized disorder, is characterized by starvation and can result in death.
“We live in a culture of thinness that’s highly unrealistic and women don’t realize that it’s OK to be an average size,” Vinci said. “But we also tend to socialize and celebrate with food, and that can cause problems because you think, ‘I can’t eat’ but you invariably set yourself up for failure by thinking that way.”
“Women need to address the underlying issues first because dieting alone doesn’t do that. It’s not really about food; it’s about the feelings that are prompting us to seek relief by eating,” Vinci concluded.
Oftentimes women equate being thin with being perfect and happy, but in reality they are very unhappy people.
Rebecca Magerkorth, director of health and counseling services at the University of West Florida said that, “there is often a correlation between past sexual (or emotional) abuse and eating disorders.
“Some women will even go to the extreme of getting fat so they will not be attractive to the opposite sex. They believe this will prevent further abuse,” Magerkorth went on to say.
“It’s as is the extra fat provides insulation against abuse, whether it’s verbal, physical or emotional,” Magerkorth added.
She went on to explain that “Family dynamics can also play a huge part in the disorder, especially when someone uses it as a way to gain attention from someone they feel is ignoring them.”
Fortunately there is help available to those who seek it. A member of Overeaters Anonymous in Pensacola said that at first it was embarrassing.
“I didn’t want to go to the meetings,” she said.”But when I finally got the courage to go, I found women who were just like me and I have been able to build a strong support system there.”
Overeaters Anonymous is a 12-step fellowship of individuals, who, through shared experience, strength and hope, are recovering from compulsive overeating. OA follows the traditional disease model and the same kind of 12-step program used by recovering alcoholics. They learn to admit they are powerless over food.
To be successful in recovery, Vinci also suggests working with a therapist, a general practitioner who has experience in treating eating disorders and possibly a nutritionist to help get you on the right track.
For more information on eating disorders, contact the National Eating Disorders Association online.
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