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Binge Eating Disorder

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Binge Eating

What is binge eating disorder?
Binge eating disorder is an illness which resembles bulimia nervosa. Like bulimics, binge eaters have episodes of uncontrolled eating or bingeing. However, binge eating disorder differs from bulimia because its sufferers do not purge their bodies of excess food. Unlike anorexics, binge eaters are acutely aware of their problem.

How common is binge eating disorder, and who is at risk?
Although it has only recently been recognized as a distinct condition, binge eating disorder is probably the most common eating disorder.

  • It probably affects 2 percent of all adults, or about 1-2 million Americans.
  • Most people with binge eating disorder are seriously obese, but normal-weight people also can be affected.
  • Among mildly obese people in self-help or commercial weight loss programs, 10 to 15 percent have binge eating disorder.
  • Unlike anorexia and bulimia, there is a high proportion of male binge eaters, although the disorder is more common in women, with three women affected for every two men.
  • The disorder affects blacks as often as whites; its frequency in other ethnic groups is unknown.

Signs of binge eating

  • Eating an unusually large amount of food over a short time (less than 2 hours).
  • Eating abnormally fast.
  • Eating until uncomfortably full.
  • Eating large amounts when not feeling particularly hungry.
  • Eating alone because of embarrassment at the quantity consumed.
  • Feelings of depression, self-disgust and guilt after overeating.
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for 6 months.

The binge-eating destructive cycle
Binge eating is characterized by a destructive cycle of uncontrollable eating followed by weight gain, followed by dieting, followed by weight gain and so on.

  • The more weight that is gained, the harder they try to diet and dieting is usually what leads to the next binge.

  • While in the grip of this cycle, sufferers feel powerless to control their eating and experience strong feelings of guilt, shame and failure.

  • Unless properly treated - which means tackling the emotional causes of the compulsive eating pattern - this cycle of dieting and bingeing can go on forever.

  • Sadly, the problem of binge eating is not taken seriously enough. Instead of being treated for the serious problem they have, most sufferers are fobbed off with even stricter dietary advice which does nothing for the root cause of their disorder.

What causes binge eating disorder?
The causes of binge eating disorder are still unknown.

  • Up to half of all people with binge eating disorder have a history of depression. Whether depression is a cause or effect of binge eating disorder is unclear. It may be unrelated.

  • Many people report that anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety or other negative emotions can trigger a binge episode.

  • Impulsive behavior and certain other psychological problems may be more common in people with binge eating disorder.

  • The effect of dieting on binge eating disorder is also unclear. While findings vary, early research suggests that about half of all people with binge eating disorder had binge episodes before they started to diet. Still, strict dieting may worsen binge eating in some people.

  • Researchers also are looking into how brain chemicals and metabolism (the way the body burns calories) affect binge eating disorder. These areas of research are still in the early stages.

Health complications of binge eating
The major complications of binge eating disorder are the diseases that accompany obesity. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, gallbladder disease, heart disease, kidney disease, strokes and certain types of cancer.

Social/personal complications of binge eating
As in all eating disorders, low self esteem is a constant factor.

  • People with binge eating disorder are extremely distressed by their binge eating. Most have tried to control it on their own but have not succeeded for very long. Some people miss work, school, or social activities to binge eat.

  • Obese people with binge eating disorder often feel bad about themselves, are preoccupied with their appearance, and may avoid social gatherings.

  • Binging can also be used as self-punishment for doing "bad" things, or for being a 'bad person'.

  • Most binge eaters feel ashamed and try to hide their problem. Often they are so successful that close family members and friends know nothing about it.

Should people with binge eating disorder try to diet?
People who are not overweight or only mildly obese should probably avoid dieting, since strict dieting may worsen binge eating. However, many people with binge eating disorder are severely obese and have medical problems related to their weight. For these people, losing weight and keeping it off are important goals.

What treatment is available for people with binge eating disorder?
Several studies have found that people with binge eating disorder may find it harder than other people to stay in weight loss treatment. Binge eaters also may be more likely to regain weight quickly. For these reasons, people with the disorder may require treatment that focuses on their binge eating before they try to lose weight. Several methods of treatment are available:

  • Behavioral therapy teaches patients how to monitor and change their eating habits as well as to change the way they respond to difficult situations.

  • Interpersonal therapy helps people examine their relationships with friends and family and to make changes in problem areas.

  • Treatment with medications such as antidepressants may be helpful for some individuals.

  • Self-help groups also may be a source of support.

Researchers are still trying to determine which method or combination of methods is the most effective in controlling binge eating disorder. The type of treatment that is best for an individual is a matter for discussion between the patient and his or her health care provider. 

Important - You are not alone
If you believe you have binge eating disorder, it's important you realize that you are not alone. Most people who have the disorder have tried unsuccessfully to control it on their own. You may want to seek professional treatment.

Specific eating disorders
For details, click Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, How To Stop Bingeing

For further help and information on binge eating
Please see list of resources on Links page.

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