Excerpt: 'Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop'

Psychologist explains why people binge eat and what role genetics plays.

ByABC News via GMA logo
March 16, 2009, 4:24 PM

March 17, 2009 — -- Clinical psychologist Cynthia M. Bulik is an expert on binge eating and has written a new book on how to conquer food cravings.

In "Crave," Bulik discusses just how much genetics play a role in the disorder and explain why people crave the foods they do.

Read an excerpt of "Crave" below and click here to visit Binge Eating Disorder Association's Web site..

"Binge eating tops the list of eating disorders affecting Americans, with the first-ever national survey on eating disorders finding it much more prevalent than either anorexia or bulimia."

~ HealthDay News

It's a common scenario played out in millions of households around the country every single day: a woman eats her favorite ice cream straight from the carton until she reaches the bottom, or a man goes to his favorite sports bar and practically inhales 20 buffalo wings each is simply trying to satisfy intense, at times overwhelming, cravings. Some crave sweets; others crave pasta whatever the target it finds it's way from hand to mouth.

Every binge is different, just as every craving is different and every binge eater is different, but the scenario is most often the same: binge-eaters like to be alone with their behavior, often turning to late-night, early morning or even what I call "backseat" binges to ensure that no one sees their so-called "shameful" activities. Maybe the kids are asleep, the parents are out of town, the spouse is still at work, or the roommate just left for that big business trip or is still taking her semester exam.

My patients have told me countless horror stories of how far they went to conceal a binge; driving across city, county, or even state lines so no one they know will witness them driving from fast food restaurant to convenience store, or binging from drive-thru to drive-thru in record time. Some have even hidden in a closet with a grocery bag full of clandestine food.

For those willing to look a little more deeply past the carefully constructed façade, some telltale signs of a classic binge eater might be: snack cake wrappers wedged between sofa cushions, "caches" of food hidden throughout the house, fast food receipts stacked like Monopoly money in glove boxes and greasy wrappers littering the car floorboards. But not everyone leaves a trail; some binge eaters spend as much time covering their tracks as they do shopping for the binge itself.

Regardless, the cravings can seem insatiable. Day or night, alone or with someone just in the other room, the binge-eater can hardly refuse the cravings that cause him or her to ingest 500, 1,000 or even sometimes as many as 3,000 or more calories in a single sitting.

The urges to eat are often as intense as they are spontaneous; we will talk later in this book about what triggers a mere craving or a full-fledged binge episode, but patients have told me that when it happens, for whatever reason, they feel "powerless" to resist the urge and often "zone out" while eating. So while the initial craving may be for a certain food group, restaurant, snack cake, or donut shop, what happens during the binge itself has very little to do with taste.

Counseling and Psychotherapy


Self-help programs

Nutrition counseling

Behavioral weight control programs

Specific treatment programs will be discussed later, but I wanted to introduce them early so that you know that effective options do exist – and many may be well within your reach. Whatever form of treatment you seek out for yourself – or for others – rest assured that right now, by following the guidelines in this book, you are taking the first critical step toward getting help.

I deal with people every day who are going through what you are going through and I know firsthand how much courage it takes first of all to admit there is a problem and, secondly, to address the problem with specific, safe, effective steps toward long-term recovery.

There is nothing fancy about my approach. In fact, it is down to earth, user friendly, and very practical. Strategies to "Curb the Crave" include surprisingly simple methods you will soon be able to implement in your daily routine:

Eat Breakfast, Hungry or Not

Don't Drink Your Meals

Beware of Stealth Sugars

Retrain Your Taste Buds

Computer-track Your Craves

Use Instant Messaging and Texting for Reinforcement

Lunch Laps, Mall Marches, and Other Exercises

My research and the latest studies done by colleagues in the field reveal how our genes can put some of us at greater risk for binge-eating and its almost universal byproduct, obesity. However, this research has also proven one reassuring fact: no one needs to be a prisoner of his or her genes any longer; everyone can learn to make better eating decisions and control his or her diet on a lifelong basis.

Moody Blues Binger

Mea Culpa Binger

Midnight Binger

Nail-Biting Binger

Running on Empty Binger

Bedroom Binger

Drive-Through Binger

Party Hearty Binger

Buffet Binger

Maybe some of these will sound familiar right off the bat, while others require further explanation. You may identify yourself as one type or a combination or you may feel like "all of the above." However you decide to classify yourself, I urge you to use this book as your toolbox; these are the tools you can use to help yourself recover or help a friend, family member or loved one recover from binge eating disorder. A special section of the book in Chapter 9 lists resources for you to turn to for information and referrals. They can help; I can help; most of all you can help yourself triumph over binge eating disorder!