RICHMOND, VA. (WRIC) – The holiday season is filled with gatherings, food and joy. But for those with Binge-Eating disorder, the holidays can also bring personal challenges.

Binge-Eating Disorder is more than just overindulging in food – it’s a loss of control over how much you eat. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, if you eat this way at least once a week for months at a time, you may have this condition. 

And according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, roughly 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder with sometimes deadly results.

Alicia Navon knows too well the challenges of living with binge-eating disorder.

“You really can’t tell an eating disorder by the size of a person,” she said.

Navon has battled Binge-Eating Disorder since she was a child – she first noticed it when she was babysitting at the age of 12.

“Once the kids went to bed, I would go to the kitchen and open up the cabinets and the drawers and look for chips or candy or cookies. I was very strategic in that I would take a little out of each one then shake it up so they wouldn’t know I had been in their stash,” Navon recalled.

As Navon grew older, it only got worse.

“My three kids used to think a family box of brownies only produced three brownies because I would eat the whole box and when they got home, there would be one brownie and one glass of milk for each child,” she said.

Navon went to great lengths to satisfy her urges and to hide her guilt. She described stopping at convenience stores for candy bars, chips and ice cream, and then hiding the wrappers in the trash and under the seat of her car.

“I was angry and moody a lot. And unfortunately, I would take these emotions out on my children,” she said. “I was very ashamed and I hated myself. After I binged, I would feel so sick and I was embarrassed that I couldn’t control myself.”

Navon said that binge-eating completely disrupted her well-being so 30 years ago, she sought help and treatment. She has maintained a healthy lifestyle ever since.

But the holiday season challenges people to stay on track.

“This is a difficult time of year for folks, whether you’re eating disordered or not,” Navon said.

She often brings her own healthy food to festivities to help avoid temptation, and she treats holidays like normal days.

“I will do my exercise. I might do some yoga …. I won’t skip breakfast and lunch knowing I will pig out on Thanksgiving,” Navon said.

A little self-discipline has gone a long way in giving her freedom from the disorder, and Navon hopes her message can inspire others.

“I’m clear-headed, I’m present. It just feels so good, I don’t have to live with that self-hate and shame and embarrassment,” she said.

There are resources to help those struggling with food addiction or eating disorders including Overeaters Anonymous which has been helping people with eating disorders for more than 60 years. There is a local chapter in Richmond.

If you worry that you may eat in a disordered way, Overeaters Anonymous suggests you should ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
  • Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after eating?
  • Do you give too much time and thought to food or weight?
  • Is your weight affecting the way you live your life?
  • Does your eating behavior concern you or others?
  • Do you restrict food, compulsively overeat, or binge?
  • Do you purge by self-induced vomiting, laxatives, or excessive exercise?

If you feel you struggle with a food addiction, it’s important to seek help.

Experts from the Obesity and Food Addiction Summit have pointed out that, like alcohol or drug addiction, food addiction is primary, chronic, progressive and if untreated, fatal.