HIlda Lee Book cover“You’re too thin; eat a cheeseburger!” “You’re too fat; just push away from the table!” People just can’t win with the matter of body image and weight. Many assume that eating disorders are purely a matter of will, and the psychology of some eating patterns are overlooked or dismissed. This often occurs with those who suffer with Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

Dr. Hilda D. Lee has written a new book, In the Labyrinth of Binge Eating (April, 2016). In it, she examines the process and psychology of binge eating/binge eating disorder. She does so because she—yes a professional, who has exemplified “will power, strength, focus—in all aspects of life found she had BED. Below, is a Q&A with author Dr. Hilda Lee.

What is binge eating and why is it called a disorder? Isn’t it just overeating like we all do at one time or another?

Answer: Binge eating and overeating are definitely not the same thing. Of course binge eating involves eating a large amount of food, but it goes far beyond the volume of food consumed. It has more to do with a sense of being out-of-control, being unable to stop even when we are well-past full.  A person who binges usually does so alone and in secret in order to hide the guilt, embarrassment, disgust, and shame. For me personally, crushing shame was the worst part of it.

Binge eating disorder (BED) was only designated as a distinct eating disorder in 2013. To be clinically diagnosed with binge eating disorder, a person must binge, on average, at least once a week over a three month-period. While overeating is a challenge for many people, recurrent binge eating is far more severe, and is associated with significant physical and psychological problems.

How common is binge eating disorder?

Answer: Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder; more common, in fact, than anorexia and bulimia combined. Eight million Americans meet the clinical criteria for this disorder, and at least 10 million more are affected by binge eating even though they don’t meet the strict criteria for BED. And this is the only eating disorder that affects men in large numbers. Of those 8 million with BED, 3 million are men.

What causes a person to develop binge eating disorder?

Answer:  We know that a range of factors can contribute to a person developing BED. Physical and sexual abuse, especially in the early years of one’s life, for example, is a major factor. Not everyone who experiences early childhood trauma develops BED and not all BED patients have had trauma in their life, but there is certainly a strong correlation between the two. We also know that a family history of alcohol and drug addictions seem to lay the foundation for the development of BED, but the interaction of environment and genetics is unclear.

Are you saying that genetics may play a part in binge eating?

Answer: Absolutely. We know that genetics plays a part. Some families are simply more prone to certain eating disorders than other families.  The connection between drug and alcohol addiction and BED is a point in case. We know that a family history of drug and alcohol addiction significantly increases the chance of a person developing BED. This holds true, though, even when the family members are distant relatives not living in the same household, or even when the person was adopted at birth. So, we know from twin and adoptive studies that genetics does play a strong role. The thinking is that both substance abuse and binge eating may be connected to the same gene–a gene that promotes impulsive behavior. Other impulsive behaviors–like gambling, compulsive shopping, even sexual addiction–may also be driven by this gene. It’s all very interesting.

Does your family have a history of substance abuse?

Answer: Oh yes. My family has a strong history of various addictions and abuse. Part of the narrative of the book involves these issues. I rarely meet a person with severe bingeing issues who has NOT struggled with substance abuse themselves or in their family.

So, family environment and genetics play a role. What else contributes?

Answer: A history of chronic dieting is a strong factor in BED. Like most obese people, I fruitlessly sought a solution to my compulsive eating in diet plans and weight loss programs, thinking that all I needed was the right diet and stronger will power. Nothing could have been further from the truth. It took me a long time to figure out that binge eating is not really about food; food was simply my drug of choice. Interestingly, after a person diets decade after decade, there are changes in the chemistry of that person’s brain. Chronic, highly-restrictive dieting (like I certainly engaged in) can decrease the level of certain neurochemicals that control impulses. In other words, when I saw delicious-looking food, my ability to control the impulse to eat was actually reduced because I had dieted for so many years. Dieting can also dampen our innate signals of hunger and fullness by decreasing key chemicals in the brain that cause us to feel full and satisfied. Highly-restrictive dieting is absolutely a binge eater’s worst enemy.

How do people stop binge eating?

Answer: There is no simple answer to that question. First, let me say that overcoming binge eating is about so much more than just stopping the behavior of binge eating. In the Labyrinth of Binge Eating chronicles the path that I personally took to overcome binge eating. The first step in my own journey was dealing with the shame. I truly thought that I had some kind of terrible character flaw that made me eat the way I did–sneaking around and eating food in secret and then hiding the evidence of my binge. Understanding that my behavior had real physical and psychological roots allowed me to let go of the shame and move on to real solutions. Those real solutions involved figuring out what to do in the moment of strong craving when it felt like I would die if I didn’t eat. I developed an acronym, called my TICKET, that outlined what I could do in that split second when I couldn’t think. Then, after I could think, I learned how to stop condemning myself.

What prompted you to write this book?

Answer: I wrote this book, In the Labyrinth of Binge Eating, in order to share my very personal story of recovery as well as offer strategies to others who might suffer as I did.

For most of my life, I was a compulsive, out-of-control binge eater, secretly consuming massive amounts of food. In 1998, at over 300 pounds, I was diagnosed with binge eating disorder. At that point, I realized that excess weight was only a symptom of something much larger and more far-reaching in my life. I sold my dental practice and returned to graduate school in order to learn all I could about binge eating. What I learned over the next few years saved my life.

In addition, I developed strategies for everyday living that put my health on the right path, things like eating for health rather than just weight loss, reasonable exercise, and learning to be less judgmental of myself.

I learned things about myself that not only allowed me to overcome binge eating but transformed me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined before I started on this path–things like learning how my unrelenting perfectionism not only guaranteed my continued binges, but also robbed me of much of the pleasure of life.

Final take-away point?

Overcoming binge eating really is about so much more than stopping the behavior of binge eating, or even losing weight. It is about shedding burdens far heavier than the extra weight we carry.

Much of the information about BED remains buried in the scientific jargon of medical texts. All of the book is told in narrative-form with guidance woven into the story in an easy-to-understand manner.

Title: In the Labyrinth of Binge Eating (Journigan Publishing, April, 2016), by Dr. Hilda Dulin Lee. 272 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9969641-0-4. Format: Paperback and Kindle. Available at Amazon $12.95: http://amzn.com/099696410X .For more information: see author’s website: www.hildadulinlee.com  

Copyright © 2016 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this post on your social network pages, with author credit and link to this page. Bitly: http://bit.ly/27BtC9I . @DrMelodyMcCloud.