The summer heat presses down on you and perspiration drips down your neck. You feel as though everything is grey and bleak. Months and months of studying throughout the autumn and winter months, hours spent pouring over boring books – all for nothing. You have failed your examinations and are now spending your summer preparing for a resit. Or maybe you are simply going through a difficult spell and having a few bad weeks when nothing seems to be going your way.
To top it all your boyfriend has just called, saying that he cannot meet up with you tonight, he has a ‘poker game’ with friends … again! And your sister has inadvertently poured her drink all over your computer, rendering it useless. Now what?
You cannot take it any more … you take a shower, then you go downstairs and start defrosting, cooking and then eating all the frozen pizza you can find, not to mention family tubs of ice-cream, crisps, biscuits and anything that takes your fancy.
You feel better, for a while, and then after a while, you feel worse, much, much worse.
Have you ever been in such a situation?
Have you ever found comfort in food, or relaxed by eating something yummy after a hard day? This is not such a strange thing to do, is it? It doesn’t do any harm and makes you feel better right? Well … not really.
Compulsive over-eating, most commonly known as binge eating, is a common eating disorder which has lately become quite an issue. Eating enormous quantities of food in a very short space of time is considered unhealthy, not only physically but also mentally. The main problem is that this is a vicious cycle, which is why most victims find it so hard to stop.
Although binge eaters may have a genetic pre-disposition to overeat, most of them do so as a reaction to emotions which they cannot tackle in other ways. People may overeat when they are stressed, upset, hurt, or even angry. Many have learnt the habit during childhood, when parents inadvertently gave them chocolate or any other food they liked, as a reward for behaving well and they therefore started to unconsciously associate sweet or fatty foods with comfort and love.
This reward system however, works both ways. Often, binge eaters ‘reward’ what they consider to be personal victories by letting themselves overeat, while on the other hand, comfort themselves or try to escape reality through more binge eating, when something bad happens in their lives.
Usually people are not aware of what is driving them, and cannot understand why they cannot stop eating, even when they are not hungry. They cannot stop eating, even if they are overweight and want to stop. Although most binge eaters feel better while eating, they all tend to feel emotions of guilt and shame afterwards, not to mention feelings of loss of control, thereby continuing to spiral down into depression, and the need for more comfort and yes … more food.
Compulsive over-eating usually starts in adolescence or early adulthood. It can be spotted in that binge-eaters eat even when they are not hungry and when they are uncomfortably full. They also eat more quickly than normal and usually prefer to eat alone, in order to mitigate their feelings of shame.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, USA, one binge can take up to two hours, and it is estimated that an individual can eat from 5,000 to 15,000 calories in one sitting. When one takes into consideration the fact that an adult woman between 14 – 50 years of age who leads a sedentary life is supposed to eat 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day, while an adult male should eat approximately 2,200 to 2,400, these figures sound even more exorbitant, as well as worrying.
A survey carried out by the Maltese National Statistics Office in 2012 shows that from around 2,000 persons interviewed, 2% were currently, or had in the past, suffered from an eating disorder. 57% of these had suffered, in fact, from binge eating.
In February 2014, ‘Dar Kenn ghal Sahhtek‘, a home specialising in the treatment of eating disorders, was inaugurated in Mtarfa. This centre provides holistic therapies for people suffering from eating disorders, as well as for their relatives and carers.
Binge eating is a serious problem, pointing to and further creating, mental issues, as well as physical health imbalances. The love and care of family and friends is a very important aspect of healing, as well as becoming conscious of the mentality behind the disorder itself.
It is imperative for over-eating disorder victims to learn how to find other outlets for their stress and frustration, to take the place of food. This might be some kind of sport or outdoor activity or painting or some other artistic hobby. Being able to creatively channel one’s emotions properly is important for one’s health and well-being.