In Syndromes & Disorders

The Bottom Line on Binge Eating Disorder

Everyone goes on an eating binge at some time or another. Thanksgiving dinner is often a marathon of eating that leaves everyone stuffed to the brim and loosening the belt. However, that is different from those who have binge eating disorder. An occasional large meal or episode of over-indulging is usually due to a happy occasion while binge eating disorder is both a physical and an emotional problem. Most who suffer from it are overweight and even obese. They usually want to stop eating and can’t. Teenagers with this disorder often wish they could lose weight and be healthy. Without help, they can’t learn to control it. According to research done by the National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement out of more than 10,000 teens ages 13 to 18, 1.6 of them were affected by binge eating disorder, with another 2.5 percent who showed symptoms of the disorder without being fully classified as having it.

What Is Binge Eating?

Many parents are aware of eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, due to many highly publicized cases in the media. Cases such as Karen Carpenter, who died due to complications from anorexia. Princess Diana of Wales went public about her battle with bulimia. The list goes on, with names such as Paula Abdul, Mary-Kate Olsen, and Ashlee Simpson. However, many parents may not realize that you don’t have to be severely underweight to be at risk for an eating disorder. Binge eating disorder can be just as unhealthy and dangerous as anorexia and bulimia, and those who suffer from it are overweight.

Binge eating is classified as an eating disorder, just as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa because they all involve unhealthy eating patterns. As defined by the Mayo Clinic, binge eating is a serious disorder in which a person often consumes large amounts of food while feeling unable to stop themselves. The eating is often done secretly and on a regular basis. Binge eaters often promise themselves that they are going to stop, but continue to binge eat. Some of the symptoms that indicate binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating when full or not hungry
  • Feeling that eating behavior is out of control
  • Eating alone
  • Rapid food consumption
  • Consuming large portions of food frequently
  • Rapid loss and gain of weight
  • Depression, anxiety, disgust, or shame about eating habits.

How Is It Different from Other Eating Disorders?

Bulimia nervosa is another eating condition where binge eating occurs. However, TeensHealth explains that the difference between the two is the binge-purge cycle. With bulimia, after a person binges on large quantities of food, they then purge the food from their system by over-exercising, using laxatives to flush their bodies, or forcing themselves to throw the food back up. Most who suffer from bulimia are not overweight, while most who suffer from binge eating disorder are overweight. Those suffering from binge eating do not attempt to purge after eating.

Why Do People Binge Eat?

There is no one reason that a person might binge eat, usually it is a combination of factors. And each person will have a unique combination of reasons. However, Help Guide outlines the three basic categories of reasons for binge eating disorder to occur.

Biological causes – A person’s genetic makeup can play a role in whether someone develops an eating disorder. Research has found that certain genetic issues can increase the chances of food addictions. Abnormalities in their biological makeup can also have an effect. If a person has a problem with their hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that controls a person’ appetite, it can cause eating issues. Lower levels of serotonin in the brain can also impact compulsive eating.

Social and Cultural Causes – Pressure from others, such as friends, family, media, and society to be thin can create eating issues. Parents who use food as a reward or to comfort their child may be setting the stage for later issues. Also, children who are frequently criticised about their weight or appearance are at a higher risk, as well as those who have been sexually abused. Bullying can also play a role in eating disorders. Being teased about their appearance or size can have a much bigger impact on teens than others. Many teens feel pressure to fit in and be accepted, causing additional stress and anxiety if they don’t. These issues can compound an eating disorder.

Psychological Causes – Mental disorders and illness can also play a large part in binge eating. There is a strong link between depression and binge eating. Those who have trouble with impulse control also may have eating disorder problems. Low self-esteem, emotional expression and management, and loneliness all can be factors as well.

It requires professional help to determine what factors have impacted a person’s problems and help them find the proper treatment for it. Most binge eaters cannot stop on their own or correct the issues that have caused the eating disorder in the first place. Often times it takes more than one person to help with the variety of issues that contribute to the problem, such as a doctor, a mental health specialist, as well as family and friends.

Dangers of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder treatment does not have the same risk factors as bulimia or anorexia, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). However, there are still health risks connected to it. Due to the fact that most binge eaters are not only overweight, but continue to gain weight until they reach obesity, and even morbid obesity, there are some greater health risks involved. Those risks can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes Type II
  • Heart disease
  • Gallbladder disease

But there are also many problems that arise from obesity that can contribute to the depression, isolation, and loneliness that accompany binge eating, such as joint and muscle pain, sleep apnea, and gastrointestinal problems. As these problems increase, the binge eating can worsen rather than get better.

How Is Binge Eating Treated?

Once someone is diagnosed with binge eating disorder, treatment may take place in several forms. The combination of weight problems, psychological problems, and health risk make treatment complex and approached from several angles. The Mayo Clinic outlines the four main types of treatment:

Psychotherapy – Whether in group or individual treatment, it can help teach new behaviors, break unhealthy habits, and reduce the number of binge episodes. It can include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, or dialectical behavior therapy.

Medications – While there is no single medication that is specifically for binge eating, there are some medications that may be helpful in treatment. Antidepressants may help in some cases, as it can affect the brain chemicals associated with depression and moods. Some doctors have tried topiramate, an anticonvulsant drug. However, there are many potentially serious side effect to be considered, so it is important to speak with the doctor about the risks before taking it.

Behavioral Weight Loss Programs – Dieting is not unknown to many binge eaters, without success. However, a medically supervised diet plan that ensures the right nutritional values are met, as well as changes in behavior can help make a healthy eating plan that brings down weight. Treatment for the other issues behind the eating disorder are important before undertaking a weight loss program. Beginning a new diet plan without addressing these issues may trigger more binge eating episodes when caloric intake is reduced.

Self-Help – While many times those suffering from eating disorders need more than just self-help, some find ways to cope with the problem themselves. Self-help books, support groups, online programs, Internet groups, and videos can all be found for those looking for help with their problem.

Having a healthy self-image and feeling good about how they look is something that many teens struggle with. It is normal for many teens to feel awkward, unhappy with their appearance, or worried about their weight. It is important for parents to know when that normal teenage behavior crosses over the line and becomes a problems that needs help. Binge eating disorder is a serious condition that needs to be addressed by professionals. If you are worried about your teenager’s eating habits, body weight, or self-image, discuss it with a medical professional. Don’t assume it is a problem that will go away by itself or that your teenager will grow out of it. Eating disorders can continue into adulthood causing further problems and increase health risk. Getting help early can help your teen put themselves on a healthy path for the future.

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