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3% of Americans Are Binge Eating

Survey Shows Uncontrollable Binge Eating Is the Most Common Eating Disorder
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 1, 2007 -- Binge eating disrupts the lives of 3.5% of U.S. women and 2% of U.S. men for an average of eight years, a new survey shows.

That makes binge eating more widespread than the other two eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia affects nearly 1% of women and 0.3% of men, the study finds; bulimia affects 1.5% of women and 0.5% of men.

Yet binge eating disorder isn't currently an official psychiatric diagnosis.

The new finding is likely to change that, say researchers James I. Hudson, MD, ScD; Harrison Pope Jr., MD; and colleagues at Harvard University and McLean Hospital.

"These data suggest that binge eating disorder is common -- more common than the other two eating disorders combined. It is associated with obesity, and it is persistent," Hudson said in a news conference held to announce the findings.

For the study, Hudson and colleagues asked detailed questions about eating in face-to-face interviews from 2001 to 2003, with a nationally representative sample of about 3,000 U.S. adults.

They report their findings in the Feb. 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry.

Binge Eating Disorder Hallmarks: Distress, Loss of Control

No, you don't have binge eating disorder if you mindlessly down a dozen hot wings, a burger, and a big bag of chips during the Super Bowl. That is unhealthy overeating, not an eating disorder.

In binge eating, at least twice a week, at times they don't choose -- and despite feelings of distress and disgust -- binge eaters uncontrollably gorge themselves on massive quantities of food.

Pope says after interviewing hundreds of people with binge eating disorder that he heard the same kind of story over and over again.

"Once they start, they go over the cliff. Even though they feel guilty and disgusted, they can't shut it off," Pope said at the news conference.

"The typical patient tells me, 'I have a normal dinner, and then at 9 o'clock at night I think, well, I'll go down to the kitchen and eat just a handful of potato chips or a scoop of ice cream. But I just can't stop. I eat all this sweet stuff, then I want something salty, and before I know it, I have finished everything in the kitchen,'" Pope recounts.

Strong Urge to Gorge

Food beckons like an irresistible neon sign to a person with binge eating disorder, says Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, director of the eating disorders program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bulik was not involved in the survey but participated in the news conference.

"A lot of these people will say they are unable to inhibit the urge once the thought of eating comes into their minds," Bulik said.

"They say that food will beckon to them like neon signs. They are unable to inhibit the urge to eat once that neon sign goes on. And there is this sense of distress that occurs when the binge eating occurs," Bulik said.

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