If a surgery could cure alcoholism or heroin addiction, wouldn’t it be celebrated as a breakthrough? Even if it weren’t 100-percent effective, the procedures would be embraced as new hope in the battle to end suffering and save lives. So why is bariatric surgery any different?
Because people blame obese patients for their food addictions. There is a huge bias against people who suffer from food disorders. They are thought to be lazy and much, much worse.
Cathy Copley-Henderson knows that shame all too well. By the time she was 41, her 5-foot-8 frame held 264 pounds. That’s when she realized she had an eating disorder. “I fit myself into the binge eating category,” Copley-Henderson says. “My whole world revolved around food. It consumed me.”
Dr. Michael Pertschuk, medical director of the Eating Disorders Program at Brandywine Hospital, explains the hallmarks of binge eating disorder. “It’s a loss of control in regards to food,” he says. “It is recurrent behavior associated with emotional distress.”
Binge eating is not clinically defined as a food addiction. Different neurochemicals are at work, Pertschuk says. “But it is a compulsive behavior,” he says. “Binge eating disorder shares characteristics with people who have OCD and have to compulsively count or engage in other activities.”
Not everyone who is overweight has binge eating disorder, and not all binge eaters are overweight. Binging isn’t about overeating on Thanksgiving or a chocolate craving. In fact, binge eating isn’t about a specific food. “It’s about the act of eating,” says Mark Kooser, an eating disorder therapist at Brandywine Hospital. “Patients with binge eating disorder will eat whatever they can get their hands on, whether it tastes good or not.”
For example, when Copley-Henderson was 12, she ate an entire pot of vegetables that was meant to be dinner for the seven people in her family. “I ate all of it,” she says. “It was about volume.”
Copley-Henderson’s binging got worse after her parents divorced and she was forced to move back and forth between them, attending three different high schools. “Eating became my solace,” she says.
In 2014, Copley-Henderson enrolled in the bariatric surgery program at Brandywine Hospital. A friend had lost significant weight after having gastric sleeve surgery, and Copley-Henderson thought it would work for her.
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