Ask Dr. Birdie: Straight Talk about Binge Eating

By , SparkPeople Blogger
This journey to a healthy lifestyle is a worthwhile, but at times, difficult endeavor. If you're dealing with an eating disorder on top of a weight issue, it can feel downright impossible to reach your goals.

Most of us are familiar with the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia, but I would like to focus on an eating disorder that is actually more common.  This diagnosis is rarely discussed on diet and exercise blogs and not given the attention that it deserves, which is not surprising.  After all, eating disorders are typically suffered in secret.   

What am I talking about?  Binge eating disorder

Let's discuss this medical condition in detail so that you can understand the diagnosis, and, if you think you are affected, you can seek the help that you need.   

What is binge eating disorder?  Binge eating disorder is not formally recognized as a psychiatric illness.  Patients who are diagnosed as having binge eating disorder are classified by doctors and researchers as "Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified."  However, this disorder recently has been better defined for the purpose of research.

The current criteria for binge eating disorder:
  1. Episodes of binge eating, defined as consuming a large amount of food in a short period of time.  Patients feel that they lack control over eating during the episode. 
  1. Binge eating episodes are marked by at least three of the following:
    1. Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
    2. Eating more rapidly than normal
    3. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
    4. Eating alone because of embarrassment by the amount of food consumed
    5. Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating
  1. Episodes occur on average for two days per week for at least six months
  1. No regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (purging, fasting, or excessive exercise)
Surprisingly, about 50 percent of people who binge are of normal weight (therefore 50 percent are obese or overweight).  An estimated 2 percent of all adults in the United States (about 4 million) have binge eating disorder.  The disorder may be more common due to the secretive nature of the illness. 
Also, it is important to note that just because you have engaged in overindulgent eating on occasion (ever heard of holiday eating!) the frequency of the behavior is what distinguishes it.  Note the diagnosis describes having 2 episodes of binge eating per week for at least 6 months. 

What are the risk factors for binge eating disorder? 
  1. Depression.
  2. Dieting.  Yes, the mere act of restricting your eating can lead to an eating disorder. 
  3. Poor coping skills.  
  4. Genetics.
Potential complications of binge eating disorder: 
  1. Depression
  2. Suicidal thoughts
  3. Insomnia
  4. Obesity
  5. High blood pressure
  6. Type 2 diabetes
  7. High cholesterol
  8. Gallbladder disease and other digestive problems
  9. Heart disease
  10. Joint pain
  11. Muscle pain
  12. Headache
If you think you have binge eating disorder, what can you do about it?  Binge eating disorder can be managed, but unfortunately it typically does not get better on its own without treatment.  It is extremely important that you seek help if you think you have binge eating disorder.  Seek the advice of your primary care physician, a mental health professional, or any health-care professional who has experience diagnosing and treating eating disorders. 

What are the treatments? Binge eating disorder won't go away on its own. It does require treatment, with the goal of reducing the number of binges.  The best treatments so far all involve some form of psychotherapy and probably the most useful is cognitive behavioral therapy.  CBT can help you learn how to cope with the issues that trigger the binge eating and hopefully reduce the number of episodes, but CBT does not necessarily lead to weight loss.  There are medications indicated for depression, migraines and/or seizures that may be helpful as well, but there is no medication that is FDA-approved for use in binge eating disorder.  Discuss your options with your physician. 

Is there a cure?  There is currently no cure for binge eating disorder, but it can be successfully managed.  Seek help. 

The bottom line:  Binge eating disorder is a medical condition that can threaten your health and your weight-loss goals.  Occasional overeating does not fit the diagnosis.  Binge eating disorder can be triggered by dieting and usually requires help from a mental health professional, but it can be managed and you can still reach your weight loss and fitness goals. 

Consider joining one of these SparkTeams:
Living Binge Free
Compulsive Overeaters

Get help if you need it and keep Sparking!

Have you battled binge eating disorder? What helps you manage it?

Dr. Birdie Varnedore, M.D., is happy to offer her expertise to the SparkPeople community; however, she cannot offer specific medical advice to dailySpark readers. Please do not share confidential medical information here. If you have a personal question or a concern about your health, please contact your health-care provider.