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KSTP Special Report: Both Sides of the Scale

Updated: 06/03/2014 11:27 AM
Created: 05/28/2014 3:06 PM KSTP.com
By: Naomi Pescovitz

More than 180,000 people in Minnesota struggle with an eating disorder. While conditions like bulimia and anorexia have higher profiles, a different type of eating disorder is more common.

The condition, known as compulsive overeating or binge eating disorder, causes a person to eat in excess without the ability to control his or her actions.

Therapists at the Emily Program in St. Paul have been treating binge eating disorder for decades. However, it was not officially recognized in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 2013.

"People are seeking treatment now that this disorder that they've struggled with for a long time, finally has a name," said Dr. Jillian Lampert, Senior Director of the Emily Program.

"I would sort of constantly nibble, and when things got really out of hand sometimes in my life, food was sort of something I could count on be there for me," said Sherri Hildebrandt, who is recovering from binge eating disorder at the Emily Program.

"I'm not paying attention to hunger or fullness cues, my eating isn't about responding to physical need, it's about responding to emotional need," said Michelle Mills, who goes to the Emily Program to treat her compulsive overeating disorder.

Though bulimia, anorexia and binge eating disorders manifest in different ways, the underlying mental health issues are often the same for patients.

"Sometimes that obsessing about food stays in restricting food and trying to manage food, and sometimes it turns into overeating food in a way that feels out of control," Dr. Lampert said.

Men and women with eating disorders often suffer from low self esteem, anxiety and depression.

Mills described the mentality as, "Avoidance of emotion, control of emotion, numbing of emotion."

"We're all struggling with the same thing even though it looks differently," said Colleen Hinz, who recovered from an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or ED-NOS.

"There are many reasons why we all eat the way we do and a lot of it is emotional," Hildebrandt said.

Emily Neumann recovered from her bulimia and anorexia through therapy at the Emily Program. She remembers the moments when she would starve herself, only to be satisfied by a binge.

"Mostly you are just sitting in this self wallow, of feeling disgusting and it's almost this thought of, you can't believe you are doing this to yourself. It's almost like I was looking at myself going, this is not me right now," Neumann said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, .6 percent of the American population shows a lifetime prevalence of either anorexia or bulimia. 2.8 percent of the American population shows a lifetime prevalence of binge eating disorders.

"Even though eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, it's the inner struggle that we all have in common," Hinz said.

"Numbing emotion, managing anxiety, it all gets directed out on that eating behavior. And that is all the same. That's all the same regardless of what it looks like on the surface," Mills said.

Get a list of resources here.


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