To Eat or Not to Eat

“It’s not about the weight … it’s about the inability to deal with feelings and emotions … about using a bowl of pasta or a pound of M&Ms as a narcotic to stem the pain. That’s what compulsive overeating is.” These anguished words are from a participator on a Web site for eating disorders. Those who suffer from an eating disorder exist in their own personal netherworld of emotional and physical pain. Three of the more commonly known eating disorders are compulsive eating, anorexia and bulimia.

Compulsive overeating can be characterized as an addiction to food with uncontrollable eating patterns of perhaps thousands of calories. With anorexia, someone will literally starve themselves dangerously and, sometimes, even to death. Bulimia is all about eating an abnormally large amount of food and then using unhealthy methods to rid the body of the consumed food by vomiting, laxatives, enemas or by other equally inappropriate means.

Inherent within all eating disorders is poor self-esteem. Many feel that the only way to feel worthy or valued is to be thin. Another online blogger said, “Since I was little, I remember feeling that it was very important to be skinny. Part of it was because when I was little, the meanest thing you could call someone was “mean” or “fat.” I had an extremely low self-esteem and a fear of being fat, so I was pretty much destined to having an eating disorder.  All I remember thinking was that I could not get fat. I’d rather die.”

Do not mistake these disorders as just being on an extreme diet. The psychological and emotional aspects that play into such dangerous behavior go much further than merely losing some weight with anorexia or enjoying your food in compulsive eating.

What triggers one to go from dieting to extreme behavior is unknown. There may be several factors at work here such as body image, weight issues, family problems and perhaps genetics.

Treatment is tailored to the specific disorder. A multidisciplinary team utilizing psychology, psychiatry and support from family and friends is sometimes necessary for successful treatment. Nutritionists for counseling in the form of rehabilitation may be included. Not everyone will need such intensive care. Treatment will depend upon many factors including the length of time one has the eating disorder, family environment and the health of the patient. There are many choices for treatment, whether it be inpatient hospitalization, an outpatient program, family therapy or a day care program utilizing the home environment. The goal for treatment is to help the person gain control of his or her eating behavior. They can get healthier, and the sooner they get started down the road to recovery, the better it will be.

Written by Betty Tryon, R.N.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute medical advice. Consult with your physician if you have questions regarding this topic.