Binge Eating Disorder During the Holidays

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • Let's be clear - the holidays revolve around food.  Any person who entertains, defines her success by the number of special dishes she puts out AND how much of those foods are eaten.  There should be no leftovers if she is successful.  Then there are the endless special recipes that people feel compelled to showcase during the holidays, and most of them are high fat, high sugar, high salt and truly rich and decadent.  When you suffer from a compulsion to eat large quantities of food, almost in a numb fog, only to feel remorse and humiliation, and then eat again a short time later because of those feelings, the holiday food fest can be the ultimate personal nightmare.

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    The emotional components of binge disorder that are experienced during the holidays can range from loneliness, because you are not with family, to anger and frustration, when you are forced to see family members who caused you pain in childhood, to sadness and depression, because the end of the year often represents what you did not accomplish thus far in your life.  There can be an awful lot of self punishment as well.  All those emotions can spur multiple food binge experiences, particularly at night when you are alone.  You may feel out of control, disgusted and those feelings can fuel another bout.


    There is an ongoing debate regarding this particular eating disorder.  Some experts feel that binge disorder is a distinct psychiatric diagnosis, separate from anorexia nervosa and bulimia, but in the same general category.  Others feel that to categorize binge disorder in that category, defies the actual reality that many people have simply learned this pattern of over-eating for many years, as a result of inability to cope with emotions in a healthful manner.  The debate continues, but the reality is that as many as 3.5% of women, and 2% of men suffer from binge disorder, making it more common than anorexia or bulimia.


    Regardless of how you label the condition, at its core is an urgent, unrelenting and overwhelming desire to eat a significant amount of food coupled with a dysfunctional preoccupation with your size and weight.  That preoccupation with how much you weigh and your size is a relatively newly acknowledged hallmark of the disease.  People with binge disorder can feel that their size (they are typically overweight) repulses and repels people, and this feeling in and of itself can inspire nighttime binges when the victim is  typically alone.  Individuals with binge disorder can also worry that if they attend a party, a "binge feeling" will overwhelm them and they will eat gargantuan quantities of food uncontrollably, while others watch (in horror). So though it's true that numerous temptations at a party do pose a challenge, as far as controlling their binge eating, the real reason they don't go to a party or celebration is far more complex.


    Binge eaters typically describe cravings and "benders" and even "food hangovers" after a binge.  So, one of the questions that experts grapple with is whether this is actually an addiction.  The comparison though is complex.  If you have a drug or alcohol addiction, you can create a living, working and social environment where you mostly steer clear of drugs or alcohol.  You cannot, however, exist without food.  So if food is your abusive (addictive) issue, it can be truly daunting to manage the condition.  If you ask a person who has struggled with alcohol abuse and binge disorder which was worse, they may actually feel that recovery from alcoholism was indeed easier.


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    Next up: What options are there for treatment of binge disorder? What to do during the holidays?


Published On: December 21, 2009