I have written many times about Binge Eating Disorder, compulsive overeating and obesity in this blog, and the central message about these illnesses is that these compulsive behaviors are not a matter of willpower. This false belief perpetuates a feeling of shame and responsibility and a pervasive sense of blame, secrecy and, most sadly, a long delay in seeking help.
Almost always, eating disorders or disordered eating stems from a combination of a genetic predisposition to the eating symptoms combined with a powerful emotional and chemical response to the behaviors. All disorders comprised primarily of overeating are the exact same way.
In fact, the symptoms and treatment for people with these illnesses are essentially identical to the treatment for bulimia. The exact expression of the eating disorder symptoms relate mostly to physiology and biological response to eating disorder behaviors, not to a difference in willpower or personal responsibility.
Not only are eating disorder symptoms an attempt to manage hunger and weight, they also have powerful effects on mood and thought processes. Starving, binging, purging and compulsive overeating all change someone's mood very quickly and decrease anxiety significantly. The positive effect is brief, however, and the long term result inevitably is worsening mood and anxiety. But, like anyone who uses a behavior or substance to change their immediate state of mind, the urge to use that symptom overrides any logical conclusion that it won't work.
People with eating disorders of overeating have the added societal bias that their behaviors are primarily from a personal flaw and that the world around them judges their symptoms more harshly as failure. In addition, the bias about weight often leads to being overlooked in both personal and professional parts of their lives.
Accordingly, recovery from these disorders needs to incorporate ways to challenge or circumvent this bias, to assert self-confidence and to refute the assumptions around them. Accepting judgment only reinforces the illness and extends the period of being unwell. The next post will address how treatment can focus on this component of recovery.