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Binge Eating Disorder

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How Common Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Although only recently recognized as a distinct condition, binge eating disorder is probably the most common eating disorder. Most people with binge eating disorder are obese (more than 20% above a healthy body weight), but normal-weight people also can be affected.

Binge eating disorder probably affects 1-5% of all adults. Among mildly obese people in self-help or commercial weight loss programs, 10% to 15% have binge eating disorder. The disorder is even more common in those with severe obesity.

Binge eating disorder is slightly more common in women than in men. The disorder affects African-Americans as often as Caucasians; its frequency in other ethnic groups is not yet known. Obese people with binge eating disorder often became overweight at a younger age than those without the disorder. They also might have more frequent episodes of losing and regaining weight.

How Is Binge Eating Disorder Treated?

Treatment of binge eating disorder is challenging because most people feel ashamed of their disorder and try to hide their problem. Often they are so successful that even close family members and friends don't know they binge eat.

Eating disorders require a comprehensive treatment plan that is adjusted to meet the needs of each patient. The goal of treatment for binge eating disorder is to help the person gain control over his or her eating behavior. Treatment most often involves a combination of the following strategies:

  • Psychotherapy: This is a type of individual counseling that focuses on changing the thinking (cognitive therapy) and behavior (behavioral therapy) of a person with an eating disorder. Treatment includes practical techniques for developing healthy attitudes toward food and weight, as well as approaches for changing the way the person responds to stress and difficult situations.
  • Medication: Certain antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) might be used to help control anxiety and depression associated with an eating disorder.  Other types of medicines have begun to receive research attention to possibly help reduce bingeing behavior, such as the anticonvulsants Topamax (topiramate) or Zonegran (zonisamide).
  • Nutrition counseling: This strategy is designed to help restore normal eating patterns, and to teach the importance of nutrition and a balanced diet.
  • Group and/or family therapy: Family support is very important to treatment success. It is important that family members understand the eating disorder and recognize its signs and symptoms. People with eating disorders might benefit from group therapy, where they can find support, and openly discuss their feelings and concerns with others who share common experiences and problems.

What Are the Complications of Binge Eating Disorder?

The poor eating habits that are common in people with binge eating disorder can lead to serious health problems. The major complications of binge eating disorder are the conditions that often result from being obese. These include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Heart disease
  • Shortness of breath
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Menstrual problems
  • Decreased mobility (inability to move around) and tiredness
  • Sleep problems

In addition, people with binge eating disorder are extremely distressed by their binge eating. In some cases, people will neglect their jobs, school, or social activities to binge eat.

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