February is National Eating Disorder Month and according to nationaleatingdisorder.org, it is estimated that a whopping 20 million American women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Though the definitive causes are still up for grabs, the general consensus amongst the medical community is that the combination of psychological, biological and social/cultural factors are the key contributors.
When we think about eating disorders, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Binge Eating/Purging usually comes to mind. Food Addiction, however, can be just as damaging to the body as these other more pervasive eating disorders.
Defining Eating Disorders
Anorexia Nervosa: This eating disorder is now seen not just in adolescents but in children and adults, as well. Weight loss, inability to maintain a healthy body weight, calorie restrictions, excessive or compulsive exercising, as well as having a distorted body image, are all signs of Anorexia Nervosa—often binge eating, purging, vomiting and taking laxatives are also part and parcel to this disorder.
Bulimia Nervosa: Recognized as an extremely serious, life threatening eating disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, is a cycle of binge eating with self-induced vomiting to undo the consumption of large amounts of food in a short period of time.
Binge Eating/Purging: Binge Eating is an eating disorder in which one frequently consumes an unusually large amount of food and is not able to stop—most people with this condition are overweight or obese. Often the abuser feels out of control and will continue to consume large amounts of food even if they are not hungry. Unlike purging where vomiting becomes the behavior to eradicate the food consumed, a binge eater tries to diet.
Food Addiction: Similar to ‘Binge Eating Disorder,’ Food Addiction is defined as, ‘one who has an addiction to junk food, is a compulsive eater and has an unhealthy relationship with food.’  The neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine, affects the food addict in the same way it does a drug addict—the reward centers in the brain are affected by junk food, soda, candy, etc. as drugs are to an addict.
The first step prior to any treatment is the acknowledgement of its presence by the patients themselves—once ownership is there, treatment can commence.
By Bonnie Joffe for Volunteers in Medicine Clinic