Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 00:00 UK

Binge eaters 'not getting help'

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Fenella Lemonsky on the destructive cycle of compulsive overeating

By Siobhan Courtney
BBC News

Fenella Lemonsky is a compulsive overeater.

The 40-year-old from London said she has had issues with food from childhood.

"When things used to go wrong, the food was there," she said.

"I would turn to it and it would make me feel better. I have been trapped in a destructive cycle of binge and over-eating all my life."

Whilst stroking her dog Simbur, Fenella talks openly about her ritual of binge eating.

"It would be secretive, I would eat in private, all binge eaters do.

"It doesn't matter where you are, as long as there is space to put the food in front of you and then just get the food down, that's the most important thing."

Newly recognised

Beat, the leading UK charity for people with eating disorders, acknowledges that binge eating disorder has only recently been recognised as a distinct condition.

FENELLA'S TYPICAL BINGE DAY
"For breakfast I might have last night's take away, I might have some cereal.
"Then I will go and buy a big bar of chocolate before lunchtime.
"At lunchtime I might have a plate of food, another takeaway or a sandwich.
"Then I'd go and buy some more chocolate and then I'd have my evening meal.
"And then before I went to bed I would eat some more."

Susan Ringwood, chief executive, said it is believed that many more people suffer from binge eating disorder than either anorexia or bulimia nervosa.

"It is fair to say that overeaters aren't getting the support or attention that people with anorexia and bulimia receive," she said.

"It is not seen as a eating disorder, but it is and this is the battle that we are facing.

"The problem is that we just simply don't know how many people are suffering from BED (Binge Eating Disorder) and Compulsive Overeating.

"Last year Beat received 88,000 calls from people who are suffering from eating disorders, but we are concerned about people who aren't contacting us.

"We know that people who are suffering from anorexia or bulimia are more likely to ask for help rather than people who overeaters."

Society to blame

Susan said society is partly to blame: "When we see someone is thin or has lost weight we tend to congratulate them, [saying] you look good.

WARNING SIGNS
Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
Eating alone because of embarrassment at the quantities of food consumed
Feeling out of control around food
Feeling ashamed, depressed or guilty after bingeing
Being unable to purge yourself or compensate for the food eaten

"However, when we see someone who is overweight, we think 'you are greedy, you are lazy, you have eaten too much'.

"It wouldn't occur to many people that people who are overweight have disorders too, they are compulsively overeating for many reasons, psychological, emotional, many, many reasons."

Dr Michael Sinclair, a consultant psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, said the majority of overeaters may have problems with self-esteem and confidence.

"They may use food as comfort to manage undesirable feelings," he said.

"Whatever feelings they are experiencing - neglect, sadness, unhappiness - food may soften and soothe that for a short while.

"The problem is that after the food is eaten those feelings are replaced with anger, frustration as they tend to criticise and beat themselves up following an episode of overeating, and that is how this destructive cycle happens."

Fenella recalls the time she was turned away from a major eating disorder clinic because in their words "you're not anorexic or bulimic".

"It wasn't explained to me at that point that I had a proper disorder," she said.

"Now things are different, I'm a lot more accepting of who I am and I'm trying to get my eating under control and be a happier person.

"My advice would be to others in my situation to research all the options out there.

"I had success with the Halliwick Unit, St Ann's Hospital, Tottenham, a specialist psychological therapy service.

"A dietician and a therapist helped me get on the right path and not see food as the enemy, and that is the key to beating this - not seeing food as the enemy."




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