Binge eating disorder: symptoms, treatment and risk factors


Binge eating disorder: symptoms, treatment and risk factors

Binge eating disorder typically includes periods of excessive overeating. However, a person with a binge eating disorder does not subsequently induce purging (vomiting), as is the case with bulimia.

Binge eating can occur on its own, or alongside other disorders or conditions, such as Prader-Willi disorder, or a lesion of the hypothalamus gland.

Binge eating can encourage the development of hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Treatment options depend on what is causing the binge eating.

  1. What is binge eating disorder?
  2. Risk factors for binge eating disorder
  3. Symptoms of binge eating disorder
  4. Treatment of binge eating disorder
  5. Prevention of binge eating

Here are some key points about binge eating disorder. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • Binge eating disorder differs from bulimia as there is no purge after the binge.
  • Sufferers believe they have no control over their eating.
  • Depression can be caused by and exacerbate the problem.
  • In some parts of the world, binge eating disorder is still not a recognized condition.
  • Some estimate that 4% of Americans have a binge eating disorder.
  • There are many psychological factors that can trigger the disorder.
  • Sportsmen, sportswomen and models have a higher risk of binge eating disorders.
  • One binging session can consist of up to 20,000 calories.
  • Many people wtih binge eating disorder are obese.

What is binge eating disorder?

People with binge eating disorder feel that they have no control over how much they eat.

A person with a binge eating disorder feels compelled to eat too much. Individuals will consume enormous quantities of food, even when they are not hungry. Binge eaters believe they have absolutely no control over their eating.

After a bout of binge eating the person feels disgust and guilt. This feeling of failed self may form part of an underlying problem, such as anxiety or depression - both can either cause or exacerbate the disorder.

Even the best of us occasionally overeats, helping ourselves to seconds, and even thirds; especially on holiday or festive celebrations. This is not a binge eating disorder. It becomes a disorder when the bingeing occurs regularly, and the binger is shrouded in shame and secrecy. The binger is deeply embarrassed about overeating and vows never to do it again. However, the compulsion is so strong that subsequent urges to gorge themselves cannot be resisted.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that the moods of college-age women who are concerned about their self-image and diet tend to worsen after bouts of disordered eating.

In many parts of the world binge eating disorder is not considered a distinct condition. However, it is the most common of all eating disorders. Perhaps as more research is published and scientists learn more about it, this may change.

Risk factors for binge eating disorder

A risk factor is something which increases the likelihood of developing a condition or disease. For example, obesity significantly raises the risk of developing diabetes type 2. Therefore, obesity is a risk factor for diabetes type 2.

Experts are not sure how many people have binge eating disorder; partly because bingers tend to be secretive, and also the exact definition of the disorder tends to vary from person-to-person, expert-to-expert and health center to health center. According to the Mayo Clinic, USA, there are estimates which suggest that possibly up to 4% of the American population has a bingeing disorder. It appears to be marginally more common among females than males.

The following have been suggested as risk factors for binge eating disorder:

  • Age - although people of any age may be affected, a higher percentage of adults in their 40s and 50s have the disorder.

  • Other eating disorders - patients who have or had other eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia are at a higher risk of developing binge eating disorder.

  • Dieting - experts know that dieting is a risk factor for bulimia and anorexia. Some people with eating disorder have never dieted, while others have a history of dieting. More studies are needed in this area.

  • Psychological problems - people with binge eating disorder act impulsively and feel they lack control over their eating. A higher percentage of people with binge eating disorder have problems coping with stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, boredom and worry. It has been suggested that there may be a link with depression.

  • Sexual abuse - some individuals with the disorder report that they were sexually abused when they were young.

  • Society's expectations - it has been suggested that the media's obsession with body shape, appearance and weight may be a trigger for binge eating disorder.

  • Biology - the development of binge eating disorder may be linked to a person's biological vulnerability, involving genes as well as brain chemicals. Current research is looking at how the appetite regulation of the central nervous system may affect people's eating habits. There may also be clues in how some people's gut functions.

    Eating disorders and alcohol abuse are genetically related - people with a genetic risk for certain eating disorders may also be at higher risk of alcohol abuse, and vice-versa, say researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

  • Some jobs - there is some looming evidence that a higher percentage of sportsmen, sportswomen and models have binge eating disorder compared with other people. Although some people suggest that individuals who work in catering (making and serving food) may be susceptible, further studies are required.

On the next page, we look at symptoms, treatment and prevention of binge eating disorders.

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