At 2 or 3 a.m. David Tedrow would hide the empty cardboard cerealbox, shoeing it into the bottom of the trash can or the back of a cupboard, where his wife wouldn't notice it.

Mr. Tedrow was in his 60s and retired, and he often slept until the afternoon so he could stay up late, after everyone else had gone to bed.

During frantic late-night bursts he would eat an entire box of cereal - Oatmeal Squared, Frosted Mini-Wheats, whatever was around - and then dispose of the evidence.

He had eaten compulsively throughout his life, he said, but after months of going through a box of cereal each night, he decided to try to get help.

Binge eating disorder is a relative newcomer in the world of diagnosable mental health conditions; it entered the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which clinicians and researchers use to classify mental health conditions, 10 years ago.

At the time, the diagnosis was fairly controversial said Dr. B. Timothy Walsh, who led a group that recommended changes to existing criteria for eating disorders and proposed adding new ones to that edition of D.S.M. 

Some thought that it was ''pathologizing normality,'' he said, and did not understand how it was different from ordinary overeating.

BUT the behaviours of binge eating disorder are distinct, he said. A person with the condition has, on average, at least one binge episode per week for three months or longer, during which the person eats an objectively large amount of food in a short period of time-

Three or more main courses in one sitting, for example, - and, crucially feels a loss of control and struggles to stop eating.

'' This isn't like, ' I had an extra piece of pizza that I wish I didn't eat.' This is 'I ate several pieces, several pizzas, in this discrete amount of time,' '' said Dr. Holly Peek, the assistant medical director of the Klarman Eating Disorders Center at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.

People with binge eating disorder also tend to eat more quickly than usual during an episode; many also eat in secret and grapple with guilt, said Kelly Allison, the director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania.

People who have the disorder sometimes go on develop bulimia, and vice versa, said Andrea Vazzana, a clinical psychologist at N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center who specializes in eating disorders.

Those with bulimia experience bingeing as well, but they also regularly engage in recurrent purging behaviors, like induced vomiting or overexercising, in order to ''compensate'' for eating. Binge eating disorder itself is not linked with recurrent purging behaviours.

And, critically, binge eating disorder interferes with people's day-to-day lives. Some of Dr. Bulike's patients have missed work because they stayed up bingeing and then felt sick, she said ; other patients have woken up with crinkled wrappers in their bedsheets, and unchewed food still in their mouths.

One of her patients ordered a cake for her child's birthday party and on the drive home from the supermarket, ate the whole thing with her hands.

''It's almost like you become a robot,'' said Kelsey Grennan,25, a content creator who posted videos on TikTok about her experience with binge eating disorder, which she was diagnosed with at age 18.

At the height of her disorder, food was a refuge, a shortcut to numb her stress, she said, adding, '' You go into the state of wanting to escape.''

Online, Ms. Grennan has found a vocal, and growing community of people who are recovering from the disorder.

Videos with the hashtag BingeEatingRecovery have been viewed more than seven million times on TikTok, and myriad users share intimate details about their binge episodes and paths to treatment -helping to reduce stigma around a disorder that is so often marked by shame.

The Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author Dani Blum.


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