3% of Americans Are Binge Eating
Survey Shows Uncontrollable Binge Eating Is the Most Common Eating Disorder
Genetic Predisposition to Eating Disorder
What causes eating disorders? Some people clearly are at higher risk than
There's strong evidence that certain combinations of genes predispose people
to anorexia and bulimia.
Many people appear to have a genetic predisposition to binge eating
But it's not a simple matter of inheriting an eating-disorder gene.
Genetics, family experience, and environmental triggers all play their
Also, today, there is what Bulik calls a "cultural barrage" of
enticements to binge.
"Eating disorders are classic examples of gene/environment
interactions," Bulik said. "It is more a question of how genetically
liable you are. Some people are more sensitive to this cultural barrage.
"Some can go to the food court in the mall, and they won't even smell
the food or read the signs because they have low genetic liability," she
says. "Whereas for someone with high genetic liability, the food court is a
One woman Bulik treated for binge eating disorder would go to a particular
fast-food restaurant's drive-through window. She'd buy her favorite foods and
uncontrollably gobble them while driving, putting herself and others at
As the woman got better, Bulik gave her an assignment: Go to the
drive-through window, order the food, but get all the way home before
"But on that day they added these hot cinnamon buns to the menu,"
Bulik recalled. "She bought six of them, and could not inhibit the urge to
eat them all in the car. So all the planning in the world can be undone by a
sudden signal that triggers the binge eating."
Binge Eating and Bulimia
Unlike people with bulimia -- a closely related eating disorder -- people
with binge eating disorder don't purge by vomiting or laxative abuse.
But Pope said that while the two conditions are distinct, there is a
"My experience after several hundred interviews is that [bulimia and
binge eating] are closely related, and it is not uncommon for a person to morph
from one to the other," he said.
"Some people have pure bulimia and have always purged and are focused on
keeping their weight low," Pope said. "And then there are those in the
intermediate category, who occasionally purge. And particularly there are
people who are older, whose binge eating came on at a later age, who never
thought of purging or just could not get themselves to do it."
Purging, of course, carries its own health risks. But people with binge
eating disorder tend to become morbidly obese.
And as binge eating disorder is now known to be much more common that
previously thought, it is a big part of the obesity epidemic.
The good news is that eating disorders are treatable.
"We are faced with this incredible obesity epidemic," Bulik said.
"We have to ask ourselves what we have in our arsenal to reverse this
"Binge eating is one of those modifiable behavior factors we can focus
on as one tool in our arsenal to combat obesity epidemic," she said.
"This points to a very substantial minority that we can work with to reduce
obesity in a segment of the population."