Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious eating disorder that affects about 2.8 percent of Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Yet, it’s vastly misunderstood, and books on BED are few and far between. In Food: The Good Girl’s Drug: How to Stop Using Food to Control Your Feelings, author Sunny Sea Gold explores this less-talked-about disorder.
In this combination self-help/memoir for young women, Gold recounts her own struggles with and recovery from BED. She intertwines her story with interviews with young women who’ve also suffered with BED and with experts who shed light on the disorder.
Food: The Good Girl’s Drug is divided into three parts: “understanding what’s going on between you and food”; “let the healing begin! how to start getting sane about food”; and “living your life without relying on the good girl’s drug.” Along with personal stories and professional insight, the book contains quizzes and activities. At the end of each chapter, Gold has a section called “Your Turn,” which provides readers with thought-provoking questions to answer.
From the outside, Gold has everything: She is attractive, a hard-worker, smart, skilled and has been successful all her life. She appears confident and happy. Yet, she constantly doubts herself, hates her body and turns to food for distraction and comfort. She begins bingeing in 9th grade and feels incredibly out of control, ashamed and guilty.
Gold doesn’t sugarcoat her struggles with BED. She is honest and vulnerable. Throughout the book, she reveals her episodes of binge eating, coping with painful feelings and situations and her attempts to lose weight and get her eating under control with diet pills, diets and even a personal trainer in high school.
For instance, she writes:
“While diet pills worked during the day, they didn’t keep me from eating at night—or even sometimes during the afternoons when I was home alone. My junior year of high school, I was selling candy bars for a school fund-raiser. One day after school, I ate one. Then two. Then three. Then four. I couldn’t stop. I ate half a dozen candy bars that afternoon, and then spent the evening trying to make myself throw them up until my eyes were red and I was drooling into the toilet. But it didn’t work. I couldn’t get rid of the food, and I couldn’t stop eating. Over the course of the two-month fund-raiser I downed at least forty dollars’ worth of candy. At fifty cents apiece, that was eighty bars. Eighty bars.”
Gold’s book chips away at the stigma surrounding the disorder. Whether it’s called binge eating or emotional eating, the public tends to view overeating negatively. It’s seen as a lack of willpower or self-discipline. People have the misperception that individuals with BED can turn their eating on and off. That it’s a lifestyle choice or a bad habit. Gold debunks these myths and more. She describes what BED looks like, who it affects (the short answer: anyone and everyone) and the various factors that contribute to causing the disorder, including genetics.
Another widespread but subtle myth is that going on a diet will help to reduce binge eating. It’s the idea that dieting will give people with BED the control they lack. That somehow rules and regulations will keep their eating in line. To the contrary, dieting usually leads to overeating and is a major trigger of BED. Diets don’t treat BED; therapy does. Gold recounts a particularly painful memory:
“Another time, when I was nineteen, I binged in the parking lot of my diet doctor’s office! I’d been seeing an expensive M.D., who helped a friend of my mom’s drop a bunch of weight with an all-protein diet, plus lots of horrible pills and weird bars…I was driving to the office for a weigh-in after about five weeks of deprivation on the diet when my hands just sort of steered me into a 7-Eleven parking lot. I felt like my mind just went blank, and kind of robotically, I walked in and bought a huge box of Dunkin’ Sticks glazed donut bars…I was finishing them up as I pulled up to the doctor’s office, and I remember cramming the last one into my mouth and swallowing hard, forcing the dry, sugary dough down my throat before checking myself for crumbs and trudging inside.”
Gold discusses other common triggers of binge eating and what readers can do to halt a binge. She also focuses an entire chapter on “the emotional toolbox,” filled with recovery strategies, which have been tremendously helpful in her own life. It includes everything from physical activity to therapy to meditation and support. But while Gold shares how she recovered, she cautions that recovery is individual.
In the section on therapy, Gold outlines several treatments that research has shown are helpful for BED, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. She suggests readers consider the type of treatment they want to pursue and gives several pointers on finding a therapist. Because receiving the right treatment is so critical, this topic truly deserved its own chapter.
Therapy is the bedrock of BED treatment. Other recovery tools, such as physical activity, are vital but secondary. Also, there are so many misconceptions about what therapy is, how to find a good practitioner and what to expect during a session. It’s critical to find someone who specializes in BED and, to put it bluntly, knows what they’re doing. It would’ve been helpful had the book explored these topics in greater detail.
Overall, I highly recommend Food: The Good Girl’s Drug, an information-packed and positive read. It gives readers reputable, well-researched information and valuable practical tips. The book is easy to read and Gold does a great job of providing jargon-free facts. She’s able to simplify difficult topics without relying on simplistic explanations. She shatters stereotypes and common myths.
Readers will easily become captivated by the stories of Gold and the other women she interviewed. No doubt, readers will return to this book regularly for insight, encouragement and hope. Binge eating disorder is highly treatable, and many people recover and go on to lead healthy, happy lives, just like Gold.