3% of Americans Are Binge Eating
Survey Shows Uncontrollable Binge Eating Is the Most Common Eating Disorder
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 link.
"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 tide.
"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."
What Are the Treatments?
"There are basically three forms of treatment," Hudson said.
"One is psychological treatment, especially cognitive and behavioral techniques. This has been effective for binge eating, less so for losing weight," he said.
"The second is medications, especially topiramate [Topamax] and sibutramine [Meridia]," Hudson noted.
"And finally, for individuals with severe obesity, there are surgical procedures, but those are reserved for more severe cases," he said.
Surprise Anorexia Finding
In addition to yielding the first hard data on the extent of binge eating disorder, the survey turned up another surprising finding: Many people with anorexia have a mild version of the disorder.
"This study shows anorexia is not invariably chronic and severe -- although it often is, and I don't want to suggest it cannot be a devastating condition," Hudson said. "But for every anorexia case that comes into the hospital, our data suggests that there are other cases that get better rather quickly."
Hudson said the finding suggests treatment could be improved by finding out which factors are linked to quickly getting over anorexia, and which factors are linked to more severe, chronic anorexia.