Most people have heard of anorexia nervosa and recognize the damage it can cause to a sufferer’s life. The fact that in extreme cases it can be fatal leads most people to accept that it is in fact a real illness and that sufferers need and deserve proper medical treatment. Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said of other less well known eating disorders. In particular, there is a common prejudice against binge eating disorder and bulimia, with many uninformed people believing that it’s just an excuse for greed and overeating. This simply isn’t true.
While binge eating certainly features sessions of excessive eating, the extent of the behavior is far and away more extreme than a case of plain gluttony, with sometimes staggeringly huge amounts of food being consumed, and in the case bulimia this is often followed by purging behaviors such as induced vomiting or heavy laxative use. These extreme characteristics aren’t present in people who may just have a weakness for chocolate, for example, and feel ‘addicted’ to it.
While these latter kind of over-eaters may feel some measure of guilt about their excesses, true binge eaters will suffer more extreme negative emotions about their actions, more reminiscent of a drugs or alcohol addict than someone who is a little worried about their weight and eating a little too much. These emotions include severe remorse, shame, and self loathing, which can easily lead to depression and other mental problems.
The binge eater will exhibit other characteristics of an addict too, namely that they are so ashamed of their behaviors that they will tend to conduct them exclusively in private, even avoiding social situations where food is present, while presenting a carefully constructed facade of wellness to the outside world. This can make diagnosing binge eating extremely difficult, and even close family members may not be fully aware of the extent of any problem. The purging behaviors of bulimia sufferers can have physical effects which can make spotting the problem easier.
People suffering from binge eating disorder or bulimia will also have the subject of food tightly wound into the fabric of their lives, associating it with their successes and failures, and also using it to cope with emotional problems in their lives, although in reality it is more likely to harm then help.
As we can see, their is far more to overeating disorders than simple greed, and sufferers deserve our sympathy and help every bit as much as those afflicted with more physically apparent conditions.