The Eating Disorder We Never Talk About

When you suffer from compulsive over-eating, it feels impossible to resist the urge to eat, even when you’re not hungry. Maybe you’re watching TV or talking on the phone when you feel it: That glitch in your brain that compels you to wander to the kitchen and eat.

You might try to ignore it, to continue your activity with the intention of not giving in. “This time I’ll do it,” you say. “Today will not be like yesterday.”  But thirty minutes later you feel that compulsion and even though you don’t want to eat and know you’re not hungry, it won’t go away.

Is it the taste or something about the food itself? Or is it because in those few minutes of eating, nothing matters? You have no problems or worries. The taste of food preoccupies your mind and your being. You enjoy yourself. Food feels like a reward. And then it becomes a punishment. Your emotions, your life, your self-conception is tied to food and eating.

You can’t stop. You let yourself have one more sandwich, but that’s it. You won’t eat anymore tonight, you say. But click goes that switch in your brain. It screams for its drug. It wants its drug. So what do you do? How can you say no when you feel so wholly addicted to food, as if it were an illicit substance? How can you ignore something that won’t go away? The urge is like a fly buzzing in your face. You swat at it and it flies away but then a couple minutes later it’s back again. It’s return is beyond your control.

When you suffer from compulsive eating, the urge to eat becomes a part of you and it’s hard to imagine life without that seemingly essential element. Food is pleasure and fun. Without it, life seems unimaginable.

Although the dominant conception of over-eating in popular culture is that eating excessively is a personal choice or personality trait (like laziness), compulsive over-eating (also known as “binge eating disorder”) is in fact an eating disorder. Millions of people battle compulsive over-eating and while there are many proposed solutions, such as Overeaters Anonymous, for many, it is a problem so deeply psychologically entrenched that it takes a lot of therapy and other types of medical aid to overcome.

While there may not be easy or a one-size-fits-all answer to overcoming compulsive over-eating, increasing understanding about it as a disorder and decreasing general shame surrounding food and eating in our society can go a long way. So please try to understand that compulsive eating may be tied to much deeper problems, and those who suffer from this will benefit more from compassion than criticism or shame.

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Mariama T
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