Photo Credit: John Wilkes
You might not know it, but chances are, one of your close friends is a binge-eater. One in 35 women struggle with the illness, and those are just the ones who are diagnosed, so I’m willing to bet it’s way more common. Think of your female boss, the girl next to you on the treadmill at the gym, the woman who brews your latte every morning, the nurse who draws your blood at your yearly checkup. Some of these women are binge eaters, suffering silently. It’s the most common eating disorder in the nation, sabotaging more women than anorexia and bulimia combined, and yet, we never talk about it. BED doesn't generate the kind of media coverage it deserves, because it's messy, it's scary, and it's complicated. As I’ve blogged before, anorexia is nearly lionized by our society, representing the ultimate in strength and control. The result is a thin woman which, let's face it, is what grabs headlines these days. BED gets pushed aside and ignored, like a suspicious-looking mole that we might pretend isn't really on our shoulder because if it was there, it might be cancer, and cancer is horrible and we just can't deal with such a thing right now.
Well, people ARE starting to talk about it more, much to the relief of the 3.5 percent of American women and 2 percent of Americans who struggle with BED. As you may have heard, the American Psychiatric Association is now recommending that binge eating be added to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which determines how mental disorders are diagnosed.
Last week, the STOP Obesity Alliance partnered with the National Eating Disorders Association to host a discussion on the need for more responsible reporting around weight and health in the media. Among those involved in the discussion were plus-sized model and activist Emme, Glamour Magazine Deputy Editor Wendy Naugle, Newsweek‘s Susanna Schrobsdorff, and higher-ups from CBSNews.
Now, new research is offering hope for our daughters, our aunts, our mothers and friends. The work, out of Kaiser Permanente, found that a self-guided, 12-week program could help binge eaters stop bingeing for up to a year.
Half of the participants were enrolled in the intervention and asked to read the book Overcoming Binge Eating by Dr. Christopher Fairburn, which outlines a six-step self-help program using self-monitoring, self-control and problem-solving strategies. Participants attended eight therapy sessions over the 12 weeks to further explore the book’s strategies. And lest you think only teenagers and sorority girls suffer from eating disorders, the average age of the women involved was 37.
By the end of the 12-week program, 64 percent of participants had stopped binging, compared to 28 percent of those who did not participate. By the one year mark, 64 percent were still binge-free, compared to 45 percent of those in usual care.
We should all be personally thanking the women who stepped up to the plate and agreed to take part in this study. They were incredibly brave, spilling secrets about their binge eating episodes — affairs I can only imagine must be rife with shame and fear — and revealed intensely personal information, such as how often they missed work or were less productive at work because of their bingeing, and the amount they spent on health care, weight-loss programs and weight loss supplements. These are women who, before the study, were binge eating at least once a week for the previous three months with no gaps of two or more weeks between episodes. Think about your life since New Years Day: Can you imagine feeling compelled to shove enormous amounts of food down your throat — unappetizing combinations like white bread and milk, frozen juice and chips — every week since January 1?
Unfortunately, many of us CAN imagine that, because it’s how we live. This research offers the hope, though, that life doesn’t have to revolve around food in such a dangerous manner. I urge reading, who suffers from BED, to give cognitive behavioral therapy a try. It helped me immensely — and continues to on an every-other-week basis — to recover from the anorexia that ruined my freshman year of college and stole countless more hours of my life in the years to follow. Ask your doctor or a friend for a recommendation, or find a therapist here.