Friday 27 February 2009

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

My b/f recently ordered Sky+ HD... he could 'justify' this because we have a ridiculously large TV, and it's never been 'used to it's full potential'. I rather cynically agreed... MY GOD the pictures are super stupid sharp!

I have to concede that it might have been a good (although not necessarily needed) purchase

anyway, we have 'anytime tv'... the sky box autonomously acquires programmes and films which we can watch anytime we like (hence the rather unambiguous name ;-) ) and one of these was a program called 'Secret Food Diaries'. It was about a lady called Danute Kostzanowska and her struggle with her Bing Eating Disorder (BED), it was really fascinating!

Now, I feel compelled to watch things like this because I really want to get a better understanding of matters like these. Especially BED because, if I'm entirely honest, I've been pig-ignorantly dismissive of people suffering from this. Mainly due to my own eating problems. I've known about BED, especially through the wonderfully supportive 'Eating Disorders' message board at Weight Loss Resources. But, because my own issues meant that I either didn't take the food in, or if I did, I disposed of it as soon as possible... I just thought that people with BED were just greedy scoffers!

That's awful isn't it, now everybody reading this probably hates me, but as I'm being honest about everything else on here I might as well detail what has been a bit of a prejudice... but mainly borne out of ignorance and cynicism, nothing more sinister.

Anyway, this programme was a complete eye-opener. Basically Danute (pronounced 'dann-oo-ta') has had an awful relationship with food for the past 30 years, starting as far back as her early teens (which is classic, I know from my own experience!), she had been an air hostess and basically starved herself to remain at a very thin 7 stone. She then met her son's father, but he left her when her boy was a baby... from that point forward she completely lost confidence and self esteem and cut herself off from family and friends and turned into a binge-eating recluse and weighed more than 13 stone at the time of filming.

Still, doesn't sound like something that would inspire too much sympathy from someone like myself who has been through an awful lot too. However, what became shockingly apparent was the fact that her BED was real, a proper disorder, and had full control over her.

There were certain foods, like chocolate, sweets, cheese, crisps and pasta would 'trigger' a binge, and once she was in the grip of it, she was literally powerless to do anything about it! She called these foods 'danger foods' and refused to keep them in the house. In actual fact all her kitchen cupboards were more or less bare, she had vitamins and a couple of tins of spaghetti as emergency food for her son if she hadn't bought dinner.

Because of not keeping any food in the house, it meant she had to go shopping every day for each meal, which she'd let her son eat on his own as she couldn't bear the thought of eating in front of him.

Once in the supermarket, odd things happened, she was unable to make simple decisions and was sent into a panic once confronted by any choice she had to make, be it as innocuous as deciding between a large pack of grapes or a small one!

she'd buy a few items, then go home... eat these, then go out, buy some more, come home, gorge on what she's bought... then go back out and buy more! She had no control and was in what looked like a state of panic.

after the binge, she was upset and vitriolic, she said that she didn't even taste the food, but just wanted to stuff it down, she just looked devastated.

along came 'eating disorders expert' Mary Wood, who I judged immediately as being overly (and perhaps needlessly) dramatic. However, she was great because she was so passionate about what she said, and he recognised that Danute had a 'real' problem, that she couldn't control or overcome on her own.

For the first time ever Danute was taken seriously! Later in the programme, and as part of her journey to recovery, Danute visits her sister and confesses to her problem. It was shocking how dismissive her sister was, she came out with things like "well, it might feel like a big thing to you, but to me it doesn't seem that way"... helpful eh?! She even tries to give her a huge bar of chocolate to take away with her, refusing to accept that this might be the worst thing you could give someone with BED!

anyway, I could talk about this programme for ages, it was a real eye opener... It was like she was never actually hungry, she never ate because of that, she ate because of an emotional necessity. When Mary left her on her own for a week she basically stopped eating because she was so terrified of anything she ate triggering a binge!

I really liked the slant that Mary took on the matter, how Danute was in fact punishing herself with food... she was just stuffing it down, even though her body didn't want it, she was bullying herself into eating so much and feeling dreadful about it afterwards.

I'd never thought of it that way and I guess that's what completely differentiates BED from just simple comfort eating. There was absolutely ZERO comfort present when Danute was binging, she looked like a frightened rabbit caught-in-the-headlights, gripped by panic, which resulted in a sort of feeding frenzy... it was really sad to witness and made for uncomfortable viewing!

Mary gave her back the control, by first introducing the old 'washing up liquid on the food trick', which is such a simple yet amazingly effective way of immediately halting in its tracks your desire to snack/pick/scoff what's on a plate. I heard about it from another Mum years ago... you know when your child has finished their meal but left something on their plate... just the odd chicken nugget or chip... just the one won't hurt... well, douse your plate in fairy liquid... that instantly changes what's on it from being the most appetising food present to the most revoltingly unappealing substance ever!

Mary took Danute shopping, to buy four days worth of food, she'd never done this before apparently! She's always been terrified that, by having the food in the house, she'd just eat it all. She got her to plan her shopping, and then ensured she only stuck to what was on the list.

She took her out for dinner and showed her that people weren't looking at her, they weren't concerned with her food choices and that it was okay to eat. Lastly, Danute called her old girlfriends together and went out for a meal with them. She admitted to them what had been going on, it was really emotional.

Talking about issues like these helps so much, it's empowering. The more you talk about it, the less of a scary nasty secret it becomes, and it loses its power and control over you.

She also started eating meals with her son, which was so good and made him really happy too. Previously he admitted he'd peeped through the crack in the door and watched her gorging herself on chocolate, I can only imagine how horrified she felt when she heard that.

It was so important for Danute to introduce some sort of normality around dinner times. I know first hand how lonely it is when you have to eat all your evening meals on your own. When I was a kid, my Mum had a very well paid job as a management consultant with a top company called Touche Ross (now Deloitte), and wasn't around much at all really.

In fact we just never ate together. I'd come home from school, either heat up a tin of something, or defrost a meal my Mother had made for me on the weekend, and eat that by myself on the kitchen bar. My Dad would come in later and make his own dinner and eat that in front of the TV in the front room, my Mum would come back later and cook herself something if she hadn't eaten out.

I remember vividly as a young child staying for holidays at my Auntie Joan's place and having her feel she needed to constantly apologise for my 'dreadful table manners' when eating in company, and making the excuse that my family never ate together at a table... excruciatingly embarrassing!

what strikes me about eating disorders, is actually how much about disorder they are... that's the word, 'dis-order'. Not having a healthy relationship with food, not having any structure to your eating.

What I liked about Mary's methods was that she didn't focus on 'healthy eating' per se, she first addressed the structure of Danute's eating. She started off by making sure she ate 3 square meals a day. It was telling that Danute said after her breakfast "for the first time I feel naturally full, not sick full, just happily full"!

I've started eating breakfast, as soon as I get to work I have something. It really does mean that I don't get to late morning and want elevenses!

It's so important to introduce some sort of structure and normality and to look at food just as it is - fuel! It's the tastiest fuel going, but that's essentially all that it is. Yet so many people have this emotional attachment to it. Yet in Danute's case it was so symbolic, she knew something was missing in her life, felt there was a void there, and was desperately trying to fill it up.

I could go on all night about this but I doubt anyone's read down this far! I do tend to ramble somewhat...

I finally just wanted to say that I find it really concerning that eating disorders, such as BED, are not taken seriously...

anorexia: just eat something!
BED: just stop eating!
Bulimia: just don't do it!

What I'm concerned about is the fact that someone like me, who should be really sympathetic as I spent many years in the grip of serious eating problems, and who might never really 'properly' recover (it's like being an ex-smoker or alcoholic, it never leaves you), can be so ignorantly dismissive of it and not recognise it for what it is - a really truly serious problem - what hope does anyone suffering have with being taken seriously by the rest of the population of 'normal eaters'?!

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