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Battling Runaway Eating

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Kim Mulvihill reporting If food is the focus of your life, you are not alone.

Experts say millions of Americans are affected by a newly discovered type of eating disorder.

It's a loss of control -- Dieting, then overeating, then exercising like crazy to make up for it. It's called 'runaway eating' and it's common in mid-life, especially among women.

Afraid to gain weight, Sally Boeh hardly eats a thing until after sunset.

Sally Boeh, Runaway Eater: "I restrict myself during the day and kind of binge at dinner time."

She also obsesses about exercise.

Sally Boeh, Runaway Eater: "If I don't exercise during the day, I’m like, 'oh, my god!"

For Jeanette Stevens stress sends her straight to the fridge.

Jeanette Stevens, Runaway Eater: "That was my way of dealing. I would eat and eat and eat."

These women have crossed the line from dieting to 'runaway eating'.

Nadine Taylor, Nutritionist: "Runaway eating is not about how much you weigh, it's about how you feel inside and how you feel about food, diets, yourself."

Eating disorder specialist doctor Cynthia Bulik says runaway eating affects one in four women.

Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., Eating Disorder Specialist: "If you weigh yourself every day and feel bad when you step on the scale, if you find yourself going to the gym, for example, even when you're injured."

Consumed by diet and body image, runaway eating can take a toll on health and happiness. Who's most at risk?

Nadine Taylor, Nutritionist: "Disordered eating is driven by anxiety and depression and stress; and midlife women are probably the most stressed members of our society."

The so-called 'sandwich' generation is managing the stress of children and aging parents, along with work and menopause.

To break the cycle experts say you have to eat three meals and three snacks every day. Ditch those restrictive diets and identify your triggers -- what makes you want to binge or starve?

Nadine Taylor: "Instead of automatically turning toward food to try to control your moods, you turn to healthier behaviors like listening to music, like relaxation techniques."

Breaking the cycle can have some big benefits, just ask Jeanette and Sally.

Jeanette Stevens, Runaway Eater: "I've lost about 25 pounds."

Sally Boeh, Runaway Eater: "I opened my eyes because I didn't even realize that maybe I had a little problem."

Constant focus on body weight, calories, or fat grams can lead to a vicious cycle of body dissatisfaction.

What starts out as a way to lose a few pounds or get into shape can spin out of control and even turn into an eating disorder.

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