chapter  3
16 Pages

The genetics of binge eating disorder

WithCynThIA M. BUlIk AnD SArA E. TrACE

After my divorce I was devastated. I was having trouble sleeping and seemed to be crying all the time. A friend recommended I see a therapist, so I called for an appointment. During the initial consultation, the therapist asked about everything that was going on for me. She also asked about things I had experienced in my life and similar problems other family members might have experienced as well. Although I had never been treated for a mental illness, my mother was depressed a lot when I was a kid, and I remembered her making monthly trips to “a special doctor” – although we never knew who that doctor was. My mother used to say she was sad all the time because of her weight. her weight went up and down a lot during my childhood. She would sit at the kitchen table paging through magazines looking for the latest new diet. She was always dieting, so imagine my surprise when I found her alone in her room surrounded by chips, cake, and candy bars. She was horrified that I saw her in that situation, and broke down in tears. The therapist asked about my own eating behaviors and patterns. Although I generally consider myself to be healthy (I don’t drink or smoke and I go for walks with my dog every day), I described frustrations with my weight and how I thought, in addition to my divorce, that being heavy was making me depressed. When I went to my primary care doctor last week, she said my BMI was in the obese range. I broke down in tears and when I got home, despite my best attempts not to, I ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. My weight had inched up throughout my adult life and since my divorce I gained 15 lbs (over 2 months). I told the therapist that, like my mother, I tried to stay away from fattening foods and carbohydrates, but once a week or so my willpower collapsed and I would run through the fast food drive-in, order enough food to feed a family of four, and eat it all before I got out of the car. During those driving and eating episodes, I felt completely out of control and ashamed that I didn’t have more willpower. I have no idea how I avoided an accident. After hearing this story, my therapist mentioned BED. I had heard of the more common

eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but this was the first I had heard about BED. To be honest, I couldn’t believe there was a name for what I was experiencing! The therapist explained that my description of both my mother and me sounded like binge eating. She said it was not uncommon for these things to run in families and that genetic factors might be involved. She has helped me completely rewrite my own script about what was going on. I had thought I was a bad person who had no willpower, but now I have a better understanding of what this is, and I have hope that it is treatable. I have kept seeing my therapist and we have worked on both depression and BED. I have also used my experience to help educate my adult children about BED. My son has always been a “stress eater,” so I let him know about my BED and the successes I have had with treatment.