It turned out that I had something I had never heard of before: binge eating disorder (BED), an illness characterized by frequent overeating during which you feel out of control and then very upset afterward. And I wasn't the only one suffering from it. Despite the fact that people don't talk about it as much, BED is more common than anorexia and bulimia combined: A study last year by the National Institute of Mental Health found that 1.6 percent of all American teens have it, compared with 0.3 percent who have anorexia and 0.9 percent who are struggling with bulimia.
Kelsey, a seventeen-year-old from Philadelphia, recently discovered that she's one of the hundreds of thousands of teen girls dealing with BED. "A typical binge will go something like this: I tell myself I'm only going to have one cookie, but it turns into ten," she says. "After I eat those, I'll grab some chips because I want something salty. Next thing you know, I'm standing in front of the fridge eating leftovers. Then I'll want something sweet again, so I'll have a couple of ice cream sandwiches and some cereal." She confesses that she repeatedly raids the fridge and cupboards although she's not hungry, and even when she's already full. "It's as if I'm on autopilot— just shoving all the food in—and before I realize it, I've eaten a ton," she says. Too ashamed to binge eat in front of others, Kelsey waits until she's home alone: "When my mom leaves, I sometimes go straight to the kitchen so I can have a huge pig-out with no one around."