If you find yourself in the kitchen, late at night whipping up strange food mixtures like mashed potatoes and Oreo cookies, frozen vegetables mixed with mayonnaise, and chips with lemon, pork rinds, Italian dressing and salt -- then you, my friend, may be a binge eater.
At least that's the conclusion of a study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which has linked strange food concoctions with the binge eating disorder.
The study suggests this pattern of food selection is common among binge eaters. The findings reveal that one in four survey participants secretly creates concoctions.
It's called “concocting” and the UAB researchers say those who do it are more likely to binge eat than those who overeat without binging. Those who concoct reported the same emotions as drug users during the act; they also reported later feelings of shame and disgust, which could fuel an existing disorder.
Mary Boggiano, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology and primary investigator of the study, said study participants confessed to feeling some kind of high during the process.
“While they are food concocting and binge eating they report being excited, in a frenzy, and high, but afterwards they feel awful about themselves,” said Boggiano.
According to Boggiano, the actual number of binge eaters who also practice food concocting is likely to be higher than that revealed in their survey.
“We found significant numbers in a non-clinical population,” said Boggiano. “If the same survey was given to people in a hospital, clinical or psychiatric setting, they would certainly report higher levels.”
Reasons for the behavior
What leads someone to go on an eating binge? Boggiano theorizes that some of it may be linked to fears of caloric deprivation. There have been documented accounts of odd food concoctions created by victims of natural famine and prisoners of war, as well as refugees during wartime food shortages.
According to the National Institutes of Health, someone on an eating binge might consume 5,000 to 15,000 calories in one sitting. The binge-eater often snacks, in addition to eating three meals a day.
Binge eating by itself usually leads to becoming overweight and it may also be linked to another eating disorder, such as bulimia.
Boggiano believes food concocting has never been studied scientifically because nobody has thought to quantify the behavior or consider that it may worsen eating disorders if linked to negative emotions. It also hasn't been linked, until now, to binge eating. Patients may not disclose this behavior, she says, because of shame.
“Secrets can kill us,” said Boggiano. “The more secretive a patient is with aspects of an addiction or eating disorder, the worse off he or she will be because they will continue to engage in their secret, maladaptive behavior.”