Rocking the bulimia boat again

I said I would go into more detail at some point about why I think anorexia is, in particular, the ‘flagship’ eating disorder.

And then I made a lemon drizzle cake and forgot. So here we are – back on track (minus the lemon drizzle cake nom nom nom).

Now, to recap see here but the two major points we could take away from that post that are particularly relevant to this one are as follows:

a) being a fat person trying and failing to diet is almost indistinguishable from having compulsive/binge eating disorder
b) as a nation of people trying and failing to diet we are displaying and encouraging the symptoms of CE (compulsive eating) and BED (binge eating disorder) and one of the main reasons why anorexia is big news, despite being the least prevalent eating disorder, is because it the only one that stands out against a backdrop of CE/BED.

Marvellous. Hope you’re still with me so far.

I just want to point out again here that I am not knocking eating disorders of any sort. Previous experience, especially doing the Biscuit Chronicles, has shown me that people get up in arms about eating disorders very quickly, without actually listening to what I’m saying long enough to hear that I’m not mocking eating disorders; I’m talking about the way society views them illustrating how messed up society is. And saying that although we may hear more about, and feel more shocked by anorexia and bulimia, they are not more important than compulsive eating and BED and should not be treated as ‘more special’. I think. Maybe I’m biased as someone who clearly suffers from CE and not AN.

Now – right there – I resisted the urge to finish off that sentence by saying something like ‘dammit’ jokingly implying that I would rather have AN than CE. I didn’t write that because obviously I don’t want to be suffering from one of the most fatal mental health disorders known to the human race. However, it illustrates my point number one.

1) Anorexia and bulimia come in for this totally messed up awe and admiration and as much as we might deny it as it’s well not PC, it’s inevitable in a society that venerates thinness to such a degree. These people manage to do what we, the nation of failed dieters, cannot do (and let’s just put aside for a minute lost fertility, more body hair and likely death). See here for how far we’ve screwed up our own instincts

2) Anorexia, in particular, is a shocking disease, and a sufferer looks like they’re suffering – frail, deathly pale and hollow eyed, it’s a frightening sight. Whereas a bulimic may look quite normal – HOWEVER, it is very shocking that they would go to the extreme of purging so dramatically so we’re still ratcheting up the ol’ shock factor. On the other hand a CE or BED sufferer likely just looks a bit cuddly. It pretty much blows the suffering ideal out of the water there. Not good for ‘wow factor’.

3) We might as well take into account the associations we have with thinness and fatness in general. Our religious past has coloured our view of fat and thin – gluttony after all, is a sin! Fasting and religion have always gone hand in hand, with abstinence (not only food… all bodily pleasures, oh the evil of sex!) being a show of piety and pureness. By implication fatness and indulging are bad/evil/not pious. We can look at the good old dualism in religion (mind and body being separate entities, with many folks such as Descartes suggesting mind over matter being the best option what with mind being superior and body base and earthbound. This leads on to Susan Bordo’s feminist theories about such mind/body dualism leading to anorexia as an attempt to realise the whole mind over matter thang but it’s too complicated for me, you get the general gist) which instils the idea that flesh is inferior and too much of it is bad whereas as conquering it is good. Much as we may not be very religious any more, the implicit meaning remains ingrained. Also, people go on hunger strike for noble causes but nobody goes on binge strike. Admittedly binging in prison etc is difficult and it may take you years to do yourself in but, primarily, it just doesn’t carry that noble, self-sacrificing kudos.

4) Finally, it may seem muchly related to point 1) which it is but, if you think about it, AN sufferers and CE sufferers both have the same aim – to stop eating and/or lose weight. But whereas as the AN sufferer is fatally successful, the CE sufferer is fatally unsuccessful. I think there is a success/failure boundary going on here. Thin is associated with success anyway but in terms of AN vs CE, the anorexia sufferer nails it where the CE sufferer goes belly up – literally. Also, having just made a cruel joke about CE sufferers, I realise that it’s still ok to laugh at a CE sufferer because they’re fat but not ok to laugh about anorexics.

Sooo…. there we are. Eating disorders of all kinds are dangerous and if the government is right about obesity being as dangerous as it says it is and if I’m right about all fat people failing to diet being CE sufferers then CE could be the biggest killer in the UK before long, costing the NHS however many billions every year. I say protect yourself now! Be a safety girl, like me…


Protect your vitals!

I have to go and let the hens out and feed them. I don’t think they have any food related issues or self-esteem problems. They eat dead mice. They ate yoghurt off my welly yesterday. Mmmmm….

In addition to rocking the bulimia boat

So, I vaguely suggested that we might, as a nation/society/culture, all be compulsive eaters and thusly compulsive eaters tend not to be ‘seen’ enough to be diagnosed as they behaviour has become the norm which is also, incidentally, part of the reason that anorexia and bulimia stand out so far as to be the ‘flagship’ eating disorders. Now, when I say ‘flagship’ I’m not meaning to be flippant or belittling to either disorder, I’m just trying to illustrate that these two disorders are the one’s that spring to mind when the phrase ‘eating disorder’ is used, to the point that ‘eating disorder’ is often used as a synonym for anorexia and bulimia when that is not correct As it says on ‘The most common types of eating disorder are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa’ whereas research shows this isn’t true, anorexia and bulimia are just the most heard/talked about (I will go into this in greater detail in another post). Another reason why we don’t hear much about compulsive or binge eating disorder may be because we seem to not know how to diagnose it – according to…

While anorexia and bulimia may be more widely recognised, it appears binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder among men and women.

This is interesting, considering binge eating disorder currently only has a suggested diagnosis in the DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), rather than a definitive classification like anorexia and bulimia.

Binge eating disorder is when an individual engages in recurrent (at least twice weekly) binge eating episodes. A binge eating episode is classified by eating unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time, and is accompanied by feelings of distress and a loss of control.

So what am I talking about?

(Incidentally, I am supposed to be planning a rehearsal for wee kiddies for a show I’m supposed to be directing but it’s hard and I don’t know how to do it and I’d rather be doing this so, Sot, I apologise, it will be done by Saturday, I promise…)

If we understand the following to be symptoms of compulsive eating… (I cut and pasted them from but they are fairly standard)

Behavioral symptoms of binge eating and compulsive overeating

  • Inability to stop eating or control what you’re eating
  • Rapidly eating large amounts of food
  • Eating even when you’re full
  • Hiding or stockpiling food to eat later in secret
  • Eating normally around others, but gorging when you’re alone
  • Eating continuously throughout the day, with no planned mealtimes

B-eat, the eating disorder website also states that most people with compulsive eating disorder are overweight, so we might also include being overweight as a physical symptom. This is primarily because of overeating without the purging associated with bulimia nervosa.

Now, I am finding it hard to break down what I’m trying to say into a sensible argument. But I’ll try.

How do these symptoms apply to nearly everyone in society or at least every fat person, give or take the odd one?

1. Inability to stop eating or control what you’re eating – this might be taken to be everyone who is heavier than they want to be. Because if you could control your eating, you’d just do it and ‘ta-daaaaa’ you’d be the size you wanted to be. So we can assume that everyone who is on a diet falls into this category. According to a 2004 survey reported in the Guardian 1 in four adults in Britain are trying to lose weight ‘most of the time’. Apparently, in 2004 that was 13 million people who were to all intents and purposes on a permanent diet. So we can include them.

2. Rapidly eating large amounts of food/Eating even when you’re full – ok, so this doesn’t apply to everyone. This is probably the clincher – are you a compulsive eater or not. However, if we twist the second point slightly to say ‘eating when you’re not hungry’ then this is everyone who has ever eaten something for an emotional reason eg. boredom, frustration, to cheer yourself up. This might include quite a few more people.

3. Stockpiling food to eat later in secret/Eating normally around friends and then gorging when alone – so who might be eating in secret? Probably people who are embarrassed about eating in public. And who might be embarrassed about eating in public? People who are judged unfavourably for eating. And that’s is likely to include if not predominantly be fat people. We are so harshly judged for eating anything except carrot sticks in the public eye – I am forever getting (or perhaps imagining, so familiar am I with being told I must be eating the wrong thing as I am the wrong shape) the ‘you don’t need that’ look if I eat a pasty in public. So I would suggest that this statement applies to most overweight people as a function of pressure from society.

4. Eating continuously throughout the day with no planned mealtimes – The 2008 Mintel report on Snacking (Snacking on the Go) suggests that a decline in formal lunchtime eating is creating strong growth in the snack market – seemingly by 2008 44% of all ‘eating occasions’ would be snacking. They reckon snacking has increased by a fifth over the two year period covered in the report and the increase is due primarily to ‘travel and lack of time to sit and eat’, although on in seven adults says it is due to work commitments. A similar proportion admit that it’s due to boredom! Intriguingly, it’s also linked to attitudes to eating on the street being relaxed but more and more consumers ‘seem more unaware of their motivation to snack on the go’ – the advertising is working! Sadly, the drop in people eating meals at home has had a knock on social effect – apparently youths are more likely to fall into substance abuse and fail exams if they don’t have a sit-down family meal more than four times a week. So, broadly speaking, this also includes a great deal of people in the UK, eating their lunch at their desks and snacking, like, ALL the time.

Compulsive overeating

  • Feeling tension that is only relieved by eating
  • Embarrassment over how much you’re eating
  • Feeling numb while bingeing—like you’re not really there or you’re on auto-pilot.
  • Never feeling satisfied, no matter how much you eat
  • Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed after overeating
  • Desperation to control weight and eating habits

1. Feeling tension that is only relieved by eating/never feeling satisfied – I personally believe this is at least partially down to the emotional qualities ascribed to food by society/food advertising. You are continually told that food can make you feel better/loved/comforted but, in reality, it doesn’t. You may get a temporary high from a massive sugar hit or the fat/sugar/salt hit that is known as ‘bliss point’ (doesn’t it sound great?) but the relief you are looking for is most likely emotional and, much as Nestle would like you to believe that a KitKat is a substitute for contenment/friends/achieving small goals, it’s not, so however much you learn that that is what you want, it isn’t, and however much you are told it will satisfy you emotionally, it won’t.

2. Embarrassment/Feeling guilty etc/desperation to control weight – these are all products of society telling us that we are too fat and therefore bad/ugly/useless.

3. Feeling numb – this is most likely the result of self-preservation from 2.

One particular characteristic of compulsive eating is emotional eating, or eating for emotional reasons rather than any physical sensation of hunger. Signs of this kind of eating include:

Using food to:

  • fill a void in your life
  • feel better or cheer yourself up
  • calm down or soothe your nerves
  • escape from problems
  • cope with stress and worries
  • reward yourself

We need only look at advertising and the work and research done by advertising companies to know that we are encouraged to use food for emotional reasons by current advertising. It makes perfect business sense. A person only needs so much food. Capitalism and corporate food companies rely on selling greater and greater amounts of products to make a profit. If the amount of food a person physically requires doesn’t increase sufficiently then the companies must find another ‘need’ or, if needs be, create one. And a person’s emotional or mental need for food can be extended almost indefinitely. Moreover, the emotional needs that the food industry creates tends to be comfort, reward, cheering yourself up, dealing with stress and as a bizarre stand in for sexual contact (we’ve all heard the one about chocolate being better than sex – I mean, really?). If you don’t have a partner, this could be seen as ‘filling a void’ (avoiding the obvious connotation there – what you do with your Flake is totally your choice, naturally). (It’s no coincidence that the majority of these foods tend to be high in fat and sugar as nobody wants to treat themselves with a carrot stick – it doesn’t have the right connotation or indulgence. Perhaps we should advertise bowls of lentils with semi-orgasmic women? Oh no, wait, food giants don’t make so much profit from unprocessed foods that are low in fat…)

For example, Flake adverts ‘succumb to the crumb’ (sexual), Baxters Cup-a-Soup ‘a hug in a mug’ (comfort), KitKat ‘have a break, have a KitKat’ (calm down? Escape?), Lindor ‘caress all your senses’ (sexual? Because Lindor sound amazing?), Bounty ‘the taste of paradise’ (escape), Pringles ‘once you pop you can’t stop’ (does what it says on the tin!), M and Ms ‘To make that tough job easier – you deserve M&M candy (reward)’, Fresh Cream Cakes ‘naughty but nice’ (morals, sex), Pillsbury Foods ‘Nothing says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven’ (here we are confusing love with baked goods).

Ultimately, food advertising is, I feel, encouraging an emotional and therefore inappropriate relationship with food and so long as this continues, especially if we continue to tell fat people that they don’t deserve real, physical love, we will continue to be fat as we learn to turn to food for boredom, reward, escape and so help us God love. If we cannot learn to love ourselves without a Bounty, we’ll always be stuck hoarding chocolate bars.

Here is a nice picture to cheer you up and rest your brain for a moment..

Snowy pines... aahhh

So what I’m saying, overall is

A. Compulsive eating behaviour is becoming innate to our society, the norm. Not because it’s normal, but because it’s what we do and this is stopping us from diagnosing and treating it as such.

B. Many of the symptoms of compulsive eating are caused by making fat people feel bad about themselves and advertising telling us we should eat for emotional reasons.


The causes of eating disorders include: (this is a temporary ‘what Amy can remember while she tries to find the document she’s referencing’)

Mothers who diet a lot

A society obsessed with thinness

Dieting behaviour

Friends who diet

Low self-esteem

Teasing at school (particularly fat-teasing)

Comments about your weight from your father (if you’re a girl)

It seems to me that any fat child experiences most, if not all, of these events. So what I’m suggesting is that

C. Being fat pretty much guarantees you a messed up relationship or even a full-blown eating disorder (assuming that we count binge eating and compulsive eating as an eating disorder) by the time you’re a grown up.

To recap:

A. Compulsive eating behaviour is becoming innate to our society, the norm. Not because it’s normal, but because it’s what we do and this is stoppin gus from diagnosing and treating it as such.

B. Many of the symptoms of compulsive eating are caused by making fat people feel bad about themselves and advertising telling us we should eat for emotional reasons.

C. Being fat pretty much guarantees you a messed up relationship with food or even a full-blown eating disorder (assuming that we count binge eating and compulsive eating as an eating disorder) by the time you’re a grown up.


What should we do about that? I dunno.

Get the NHS to scrap dieting (doesn’t work, is a predictor for eating disorders, people tend to put on more when they give up) and treat all fatness as if it were an eating disorder?

Stop the food companies advertising food as emotional cure alls so we don’t confuse cake with love?

Stop fat-bashing so fat people don’t guilt binge?

Research compulsive eating in the UK and get some stats and a proper diagnosis sorted?

I dunno. What do you think?