Binge Eating Disorder

Eating disorders have long been affecting women and men, especially in Western cultures. Only recently, though, have eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia received mainstream attention by doctors, psychologists, and members of the community. Disordered eating is thought to affect between 15% and 20% of the population in North America alone, and children as young as six have been found to be affected by eating disorders. Recently, a new eating disorder, called binge eating disorder, has been included with anorexia and bulimia as one of the most commonly found eating disorders. Binge eating disorder is highly treatable and many sufferers go on to live healthy and happy lives.

What is Binge Eating?
Binge eating disorder (BED) is sometimes referred to as compulsive overeating. Binge eating and compulsive overeating are often termed an “addiction to food” because people who suffer from the disorder eat large amounts of food in very short periods of time. These overeating episodes are called “binges,” and are made up of larger than normal amounts of foods, sometimes up to 20 000 calories. Binges usually occur within a two hour period, but unlike bulimia, these binges are not followed by purges.

Binge eaters will engage in overeating in order to soothe their emotions, deal with daily stress, or fill an emotional or physical void in their life. Sufferers often see food as their only true friend. Triggered by anger, depression, boredom, or loneliness, binge eating leaves the sufferer feeling out of control and uncomfortably full. While binges temporarily take away negative feelings, after a binge the sufferer will feel tremendous guilt and shame. They may feel disgusted with themselves, and feel especially unhappy with their body size and shape. However, binge eaters are unable to break the cycle of binges, and will continue to overeat in order to deal with life’s daily stresses or emotional problems.

2% of the North American population suffers from binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder can affect both women and men, though twice as many women seem to have the disorder. Most binge eaters are overweight and 8% are obese (defined as being 20% above a healthy body weight). However, some binge eaters can remain around a healthy body weight for their age and height. Binge eating disorder tends to occur around late adolescence or early adulthood, though it can occur in any person of any age. Binge eating is usually triggered by a major life change or a particularly traumatic emotional event, such as divorce, a death in the family, or physical or sexual abuse.

Causes of Binge Eating The cause of binge eating disorder is still unknown, though there appear to be a variety of factors involved in the development of the disease. Genetics seems to play a role in the disorder, as binge eating tends to run in families. Psychological factors are probably one of the major causes of binge eating 50% of binge eaters suffer from depression, which is triggered by low levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is responsible for regulating appetite and hunger signs in the body. However, it is not known if depression in all binge eaters occurs before the disorder sets in or after. Emotions and stress are definite triggers of binge eating symptoms, and binge eating may be a coping mechanism for dealing with these feelings.

Dieting may also be a factor that contributes to binge eating disorder. The majority of binge eaters have spent years on fad diets, and often get caught up in the effects of yo-yo dieting. Poor nutrition, not enough to eat during the day, or strange eating patterns can trigger symptoms of binge eating.

Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder symptoms tend to be easily recognized. If you think you may be a binge eater or if you think you might know someone who is, here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • uncontrolled eating
  • eating large amounts of food in a short time period
  • rapid or frenzied eating
  • hiding food
  • secretive eating
  • missing work, school, or social events
  • excessive sweating or shortness of breath
  • weight gain
  • decreased mobility caused by joint pain due to obesity
  • insomnia and poor sleeping habits
  • mood swings and depression
  • promiscuous sexual relations or impulsive behavior
  • describing food as a “friend”

Consequences of Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is often mistakenly seen as less dangerous than anorexia or bulimia. In fact, binge eating disorder causes a number of physiological and psychological complications, and must be taken very seriously.

Binge eating leaves sufferers feeling extremely guilty and ashamed. Many binge eaters turn to alcohol or drug abuse in order to soothe their depression. Severe depression may lead to suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. Binge eaters often miss school or work in order to binge eat. This can increase the chance of losing a job or not completing necessary schooling.

Binge eaters can also suffer from a host of physical ailments. Obesity and binge eating are highly correlated. Obesity can cause many physical problems, including: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Sufferers are also at increased risk for developing kidney disease, gallbladder disease, Type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. More than 300 000 people die every year from binge eating disorder.

Treatments for Binge Eating Disorder
If you have binge eating disorder or are beginning to show some signs of the illness, please seek help. Treatment is available to you and is highly effective more than 80% of those treated for binge eating will recover completely or make great strides in their recovery. You too can have success in overcoming binge eating.

Binge eating disorder treatment is highly debated among psychologists and health care providers. Many favor treating the underlying psychological causes of the disorder before addressing obesity issues. Others believe that obesity should be targeted first. It appears that the best approach is a combination of the two both psychological counseling and weight control should be emphasized during treatment.

The most successful treatment for binge eating disorder is psychotherapy. Binge eating disorder therapy targets the underlying causes of the disorder. Cognitive behavior therapy teaches sufferers how to keep track of their eating and begin to change destructive habits. Cognitive behavioral therapies for binge eating disorder also teaches coping skills for stress, depression, and anger. This therapy also focuses on ending negative thoughts about body size and shape, which perpetuate the illness. Interpersonal therapy focuses on the relationships that have been built by the sufferer and aims to improve them through counseling.

Medications are often recommended to treat depression in binge eaters. By treating the depression, many sufferers find it easier to combat their illness and deal with stress in more positive ways. Medication for binge eating can include antidepressants like Zoloft, Paxil, and Celexa. These drugs have also been proven to reduce binge episodes.

Sometimes, more extreme treatments are advocated in order to treat obesity in binge eaters. Gastrointestinal surgery reduces the size of a person’s stomach, thereby limiting how much she or he can eat. Dramatic weight loss usually occurs within months of the surgery. However, gastrointestinal surgery is not a cure for binge eating. The psychological factors behind the illness must be addressed, and counseling should be pursued simultaneously.

If you are suffering from binge eating disorder, or any kind of disordered eating, you are not alone. Quality treatment is available to you and can help you lead a happy and joyful life. Remember binge eating recovery is difficult but rewarding. The sooner an eating disorder is treated, the better your chance for full recovery.

Here are some places to look to for help and support:

  • If you are in crisis, visit the nearest hospital or emergency room
  • Bring up any concerns with your doctor he or she can help
  • Visit the National Eating Disorder Association for information on binge eating disorder and treatment options
  • Talk with you family and friends and start a support network

For more information on binge eating, click here.

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