Posted by William on April 6, 2012
I would like to begin a history of the night eating syndrome with the dramatic event that brought it to my attention. The year was 1950, and the occasion was an informal meeting of psychiatric residents. A group of us used to gather each week to discuss our patients and their progress in treatment. In this endeavor we were aided by a dramatic new development, the introduction of wire recorders that made it possible for the first time to record interviews. I had recorded an interview with a patient shortly before she broke off treatment and, concerned by what had happened, asked my colleagues to help me decide what to do.
The patient was a 16-year-old girl of average height who entered treatment weighing 220 lbs and gaining rapidly. Treatment went well, and the patient stopped gaining weight and then started losing it. Problems began, however, when the patient began to discuss her father and some of the intense conflicts surrounding her relationship with him. After a period of weeks during which he disparaged her for seeking treatment, he forced her to discontinue it.
After outlining this background, I turned on the wire recorder. We had not been listening for long when suddenly one of our group, an obese young woman, became upset. Gasping for air, she rose from the floor where we had been sitting and staggered out of the room. Puzzled, I followed her and saw a face that mirrored anguish bordering on panic. When I persuaded her to return to the group she tried to explain to her baffled, solicitous colleagues what had precipitated her attack of acute anxiety.
“It wasn’t anything about the father. That was nothing. It was how that girl talked about the way she eats: nothing for breakfast. She’s never hungry at all in the morning. Then what it’s like at night, how she can’t seem to stop eating. Supper doesn’t satisfy her, and she just goes on and on. She even gets up out of bed to eat…that’s how I eat, and I never heard about it from anybody else in my whole life!”
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