Binge eating in need of a serious look

Thanks for Melissa Healy’s thorough stories on eating disorders, addiction, emotional eating, bingeing and the rest [“Eating Away,” “Treating Overeating As an Addiction,” “The Difficulty of Crafting a New Label” and “Holidays Feed Problems,” Nov. 23].

I would point out just one small thing to those who say that “Giving up booze is easy because I don’t ever have to drink again, but giving up compulsive eating is hard because I have to eat.” They are overlooking an important point: We do have to drink. We drink every day. We simply choose which liquids to drink (water, milk, juice, soda, tea, coffee, etc) and which ones not to drink (those containing alcohol).

Likewise with a food addiction, we choose the foods we can safely eat in moderation and which ones not to eat because they are our “alcoholic foods” or “trigger foods” or “binge foods.”

BJ Gallagher Mt. Washington

This is a fabulous article. Sometimes I feel alone in the feelings you described. It was amazing to know that this issue is being seriously studied. For me, the issue is actually worse, because even though I mirror [Rina] Silverman’s actions and feelings, I am a thin person, so no one believes me, even my doctors. They laugh.

Lisa D.

West Hollywood

Great article. It seems you left out a very important thing, though: Overeaters Anonymous. It’s helped a lot of people.

Matthew Santa Monica

In your articles on binge eating, you do your readers a disservice by dismissing Overeaters Anonymous based on a couple of anecdotes. OA has given binge eaters and others with a variety of eating disorders relief when all else failed.

Some members identify “alcoholic” foods; others abstain from destructive behaviors with food. Instead of debating about the definition of our affliction, we apply the 12 steps to achieve physical, emotional and spiritual recovery. Readers can find OA on the Web at

Terry L. Irvine

I am relieved to see in print the genuine experience of a binge eating person and a description of the in-depth psychological work necessary to heal beyond the need to mindlessly devour food.

I’ve been working as a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorder recovery for over 25 years. I am still sad, frustrated and amazed at the lack of public appreciation for the anguish people with these disorders experience. The eating or non-eating is not about vanity, greed, weak moral fiber, lack of willpower, desire for attention or any cause that the public and some professionals in the healing professions believe can be resolved with fast answers, diets and willpower.

As you rightly say in your article, “Overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger or stress trigger episodes of eating unusually large quantities of food, often when she’s not at all hungry.”

So diets, diet pills and food focus are not the issues. The issue is overwhelming feelings.

Binge eaters may not get the healing attention they need because they are more likely to hurt themselves than others. They are not using alcohol and crashing cars. They are not using drugs and killing, robbing or creating public mayhem.

I’m especially glad to see you give the binge-eating person a name and a story. You help the binge-eating person gather understanding and, I hope, evoke some compassion that will disperse the harsh judgments.

Yet your article about the problems binge eaters face in the holidays doesn’t address the real people trapped in binge behaviors. Although the article begins with a description of emotional triggers for binge eating, it goes on to focus on food control as the primary answer: “Most patients can learn to control binge eating with cognitive behavioral therapy” and “We know that a pattern of regular eating is important” for binge eaters. In other words, if the problem looks like it’s about a hand bringing food to a mouth, then the answer must be how to stop the hand.

I can’t argue with these statements. But binge eaters have a compelling need to binge. They can find real freedom from the binge eating behavior if they develop from within, so that they can function well in situations that would formerly send them to the food cupboards.

This development can come from in-depth psychotherapy, regular and committed mindfulness practices or a major life challenge that forces them to grow or die.

Accurate but limited information that focuses on eating habits and weight interventions neglect this important point.

Joanna Poppink, MFT

Los Angeles

The alcoholism label

Re: Shari Roan’s article “You Can Cut Back,” Nov. 16, I always like to read stories about alcoholism and recovery therefrom. I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous since Feb. 8, 1985. I have learned over the years that abstinence is the best way to combat alcoholism, combined with the support of regular attendance at AA meetings and the taking of the steps in the AA program.

There was a movement started in the Seattle, Wash., area by a woman who advocated controlled drinking. She was subsequently in a wrong-way freeway accident up there, drunk, and killed someone in the accident.

I think providing the false hope that an alcoholic can do controlled drinking is playing with fire.

Roger E. Ervast Redlands

Your recent article on the ability of drinkers to control their drinking should have included some information from alcoholics.

When AA first started, its methods were not initially accepted by “leading scientists” of the era. I have 26 years of continuous sobriety in AA and have seen the results of drinkers who attempt to “change those habits.” A true alcoholic does not do a very good job of evaluating his drinking habits and making appropriate adjustments.

Further, I have seen very few people who come to AA who are not problem drinkers. People whose drinking habits do not cause problems in their lives are not driven to seek the solutions found in AA.

My real concern is that, in not providing balance in your report, there are those whose sobriety is fragile and are looking for a reason to prove they are not alcoholic. I have seen this sort of thing come around periodically, and while my research is anecdotal, the only result has been a lot of misery for the alcoholic and their families as they set out to prove once again they can control their drinking.

Paul Taylorsville, Ky.

A lot has happened in the field of alcoholism research since Bill Wilson’s lifetime body of work. However, abstinence remains as the best solution to the problem drinker.

Your article suggests that the problem drinker may be able in some instances to control his consumption to safe levels, yet the need to control appears to me to be the first symptom of the disease of alcoholism.

Don’t you think that presents a terrible paradox to the problem drinker?

From Alcoholics Anonymous, The Big Book: “Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing a making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic. Science may one day accomplish this, but it hasn’t done so yet. Despite all we can say, many who are real alcoholics are not going to believe they are in that class. By every form of self-deception and experimentation, they will try to prove themselves exceptions to the rule, therefore nonalcoholic.”

Samuel M. Bragg Jr. Houston