Clearly, binge eating is not merely the idle cravings of a nervous or hungry eater, who may eat a handful of chips or a single donut. Binge eating involves the super-sizing of our cravings to the point of an uncontrollable urge that snowballs until the binge eater literally feels "helpless" to resist the urge to binge.
Binge eaters don't just consume a handful of potato chips; they'll down a whole bag in a sitting — and that may just be a teaser for the grand finale that's to come. A bowl of ice cream may just be the appetizer for the whole pint — and then another, if it's handy — or even if there's a convenience store within easy driving distance. A single donut? Forget it; the binge eater wants six and, stomach swollen, blood sugar idling near the redline, will contemplate getting in the car and heading through the nearest drive-thru to round out the dozen.
Binge eating disorder is classified by a distinct and measurable pattern of behavior that has manifested itself in the individual's life, often over many months or years. Does this sound like someone you know or love?
Maybe a lot like… you?
Then we're both right where we're supposed to be. My name is Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., and I am Director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is my mission to inform as many people as possible about the dangers of binge eating, to help those who already feel trapped to escape, and to prevent others from falling into the dangerous cycle of binge eating. Be it prevention or treatment, success is my ultimate goal.
As so often happens in the field of medicine, my interest in binge eating came about through a combination of happenstance and career path. After receiving my bachelor's degree from the University of Notre Dame and my master's and doctorate degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, I became interested in eating disorders while researching childhood depression. Mood and food are so intricately intertwined and it seemed whenever I was doing research on depression I was reading about appetite and weight and, whenever I was working on eating disorders, I was hearing about depression and anxiety. We know these systems are linked in our psychology, but we are now discovering that they are also linked in our biology.
Binge eating disorder is a highly treatable condition. When we give patients path-breaking tools to "curb the crave" at our program at UNC, most of those who use them can — and do — triumph over their binge eating. You will hear about these patients, men and women, young and old, and how they conquered their disorder using a variety of strategies in their personal arsenal; you will learn these strategies as well.
What about gaining weight? I know how closely concerns over weight and binge eating are linked, and that is why losing weight and keeping it off are a critical part of both treatment and self-discovery for everyone trying to get control over their binge eating. Once you can to identify the causes of your cravings, it becomes easier to lose weight — as well as to bring your binges under control.