In Troubled Economy, Binge Eating Bites into Finances

Her condition never sent her into dire economic straits, as she says she could always find the money to binge. But, she notes, "It had to be awful with my budget. Somehow I fit it into the budget to where I could eat like a pig at times. ... I found ways to make it work."

But the current steady rise in food prices could makes such adaptation difficult for other binge eaters. According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of food surged 6 percent in the 12 months leading up to September 2008. Among other personal expense categories, only the rise in transportation and energy costs exceeded this jump.

Worse, Bulik says that sensible adjustments to family budgets may even compound the problem for those with eating disorders.

"What [patients] are saying is that in order to save money, the family has made the very rational decision to join wholesale clubs like CostCo and Sam's Club to buy food in bulk because it's cheaper," she says. "Yet, having these foods around in bulk is a binge trigger.

"It's a whole new level of risk based on the financial considerations of the way people shop."

This guilt, says Bulik, can build upon the guilt that normally comes attached with these conditions.

"The way I'm hearing them say it is that this is just another layer of guilt," she notes. "Often they just feel guilty and ashamed about their illness. Now there is this additional layer of guilt: 'My disorder is actually impacting my family's budget for food or whether we will have enough money to buy Christmas presents.' That's the really sad part."

With more guilt comes more bingeing, which creates a vicious cycle that can be difficult to escape. As Bulik notes, "The guilt itself tends to be a trigger for binge eating."

It's a situation with which Lindberg says she can sympathize.

"I can't imagine in today's society with our economy, God, the guilt that you must lay on yourself when you spend money on it that you need to spend on something else," she says. "I can't imagine the guilt."

Money May Motivate Some to Quit

Lindberg, however, says she is living proof that those with binge eating disorders can overcome the condition.

"I can't stand the thought of it now," she says. "I can't overeat; I just kind of 'hit the wall' when I'm eating now. But it's taken lots of years to get to that point."

And while for some the additional finance-related guilt of binge eating can lead to a downward spiral, for others the extra costs could be a life-changing wake-up call.

"It's probably different strokes for different folks," Bermudez says. "I think there are people who would probably be willing whatever sacrifice to keep bingeing, but for other people it may be a motivation.

"In that they are dealing with guilt as a trigger and guilt as an outcome, people face this struggle differently. But sometimes people will regard that guilt as an important motivation to seek help, and they can use it to control their behavior."

Bulik agrees. "If anything, this could be another reason to really work on [binge eating disorders] now; it not only impacts your health, but it also impacts your and your family's pocketbook."

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