Not Mentally Mainstream Part 5: The undiscussed eating disorder

After learning that some people consider anxiety and depression "mainstream" or "socially acceptable," I realized we still have a long way to go before the stigma attached to ALL mental health issues is erased. I decided to start a series to raise awareness about mental illnesses that aren't often talked about or accepted. Click here to read my previous post about borderline personality disorder.


I’ve written about anorexia before but, today, I want to talk about another kind of eating disorder that can be just as dangerous and isn't talked about nearly as much in the media. Binge-Eating Disorder or Compulsive Overeating.

There are many articles dedicated to talking about obesity, of course, but, one thing that is not talked about enough is the fact that, for some people, overeating is actually a mental illness.

For many of us, we gain weight from consciously eating an entire family-sized bag of Doritos while binge watching "Stranger Things" or choosing the cheeseburger with fries instead of the salad with non-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing. But, for people with this disorder, it's not a choice. It's a form of addiction.

Sadly, Compulsive Overeating is not talked about very often in the media — even though it's, in fact, more common than anorexia or bulimia. And I think this is because, well, people suffering from it aren't generally represented in Hollywood.

One actress, Chrissy Metz, is the exception. When I first saw her on the show "This is Us," I was so excited to finally see representation of a plus-sized woman on television!

Chrissy has been very open about her own struggles with binge-eating. In her memoir This is Me, she wrote, "We had lived with a lack of food for so long that, when it was there, I felt like I had to eat it before it disappeared. ... Food was my only happiness.”

Part of the disorder stemmed from her stepfather physically and emotionally abusing her. She would sneak cookies and chips in the middle of the night, when everyone was asleep, as a way to escape and feel numb.

According to a study of 57,000 women by the journal Obesity, those with a history of childhood physical or sexual abuse were nearly twice as likely to develop a food addiction than those who did not. Other factors that likely influence binge eating disorder, according to the organization Eating Disorder Hope, are biological abnormalities, depression, body dissatisfaction and difficulty coping with feelings.

Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by consuming abnormal amounts of food while feeling unable to stop with episodes happening at least twice a week for six months or more. And it becomes a vicious circle — feeling disgusted with one's self for the binging and then eating more to cope with those feelings.

Eating Disorder Hope reports that some of the symptoms of compulsive eating are:

• Regularly continuing to eat, even when full
• Gorging when by yourself, even though you may eat normally around others
• Finding relief from anxiety only when eating
• Never feeling satisfied, no matter the amount of food consumed

And, just like any other addiction, binge eating disorder can lead to dangerous and even deadly results, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and gastrointestinal difficulties. But also, just like any other addiction or mental illness, treatment is available.

You may have tried going on Weight Watchers or getting a personal trainer. Maybe it worked for you or maybe it didn't. Maybe it worked for a little while and then you went back to your old habits. Or, maybe even, you went to the opposite extreme and developed another kind of obsession, which also isn't healthy.

If the "normal" dieting didn't work for you, it's probably because you didn't identify the underlying cause of your eating disorder. And you probably never even thought of it as a disorder, so you never treated it as such.

Someone with binge eating disorder and someone who overeats just because they like food and beer may both weigh the same amount but their relationships with food are very different. That means that the process of getting healthier is also very different.

For those with the disorder, the health of the mind has to be addressed first. And, you will hear me say time and time again, it's equally important to focus on taking care of your brain as it is to take care of your body.

Eating Disorder Hope suggests that those with the disorder seek professional help from a psychiatrist, therapist or nutritionist who can help find healthier ways to cope with depression, anxiety and stress than compulsively eating. Some recommended therapies are cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and dialectical behavior therapy.

Chrissy Metz is living proof of the benefit of therapy — losing 100 pounds in her first five months focusing on her mental health.

In an interview with Marie Claire, she said, "When you do put the food down and those feelings come up, you're not being numbed anymore. You're like, 'I got to deal with this.'"

To find a therapist in your area who specializes in eating disorders, visit www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/eating-disorders.

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