Other Eating Disorders
There are many types of food and eating related disorders that have similarities to the better-known anorexia and bulimia. A compulsion to eat only a specific food or food type is less common but can stem from the same types of emotional problems that predispose one to anorexia or bulimia. Chronic or compulsive Overeating is a disorder that is often seen as lack of control or a character flaw because the results are visible, and socially unacceptable.
There are many thousands of people who use food as a barrier or defense against having to experience long repressed feelings. This might manifest in ritualistic or nervous behaviors around eating in public, or eating with family members. It may manifest in extremely picky behavior around what one eats or regarding how food is prepared. Any form of an eating disorder is a red flag that there is something deeper, on a feeling level that needs to be addressed. The disorder itself is not the problem, but merely a symptom.
Compulsive overeaters may not purge what they eat but they are closely related to the bulimic in many ways. Like a bulimic, the overeater may be unconsciously attempting to keep from experiencing painful feelings or memories. They may eat as a diversion to doing so. Emotional eating is when a person has experienced a stressful situation, and instead of dealing with the problem and working through it, they turn to food instead. They may find comfort in eating, like a nurturing friend. They may even realize that they eat more during stressful periods, yet they do not make the effort to deal with their feelings in a healthy way. Most often, compulsive overeaters have several types of eating patterns. Each fills a need for a specific type of emotion or stress.
For instance, having a fight with an ex-husband might be tolerated with an ice cream and cookie binge. A therapy session may be followed by a dinner-food-frenzy. Or, a lonely evening at home may be coupled with hot chocolate, pastries and buttered popcorn. Each type of stress leaves the overeater with a different set of painful feelings. And s/he has learned how to avoid those feelings by compensating with food. No matter how often they attempt to change their eating habits, diet, or stop the compulsion to eat, they will repeatedly fall short of their long range goal until they stop focusing on the food and start dealing with the pain.
As a child, Andrea loved to eat. Although she spent nearly 17 years as an anorexic and bulimic, it wasn't because she had an aversion to food or because she "didn't like to eat." In fact, one of the common factors binding most people with eating disorders is that they profess to dislike eating, when the truth is that they like eating so much, that they fear that they will not have the ability to control themselves if they give in to it. Anorexics, like bulimics, and compulsive overeater, are obsessed with food.
Andrea recalled that as a child one of her favorite activities was being able to ride her bike to McDonald's every Saturday afternoon. Afterwards she and her friend would go next door to a Speedy Mart and buy candy and comic books until they were broke. In sixth grade she learned how to fake a high temperature, and so began several months of going home early from school where her mother would make her favorite foods to help her feel better. By the time she was in high school, eating was her favorite self-nurturing activity. Her bulimic symptoms began then; bingeing was followed by fasting or exercising. And by the time she was 21 she was 30 pounds overweight. Then began the anorexia.