Understanding Binge Eating

Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Options!

Introduction

Binge eating is one of the most common types of disordered eating behaviours. In extreme cases, binge eating leads to obesity, which is associated with numerous health risks.

While obesity is relatively easy to identify and measure, the identification of binge eaters is often more difficult due to masking behaviours.

Many people who are binge eaters fall within a “normal” weight range, and because of this, they are not immediately recognised as being in need of assistance. This distinction results in both binge eating and night eating syndromes being commonly underdiagnosed.

A common misconception lies in the lack of difference between binge eating episodes, emotional eating episodes, and overeating episodes. There is a distinct contrast between binge eating and overeating.

An episode of overeating occurs frequently and is apt to occur following food deprivation, while binge eaters have no food deprivation and they immediately begin eating when food is presented to them. Our goal as primary care therapists is to become familiar with the symptoms of binge eating and to provide the necessary education and resources to support patients in decreasing excessive food intake.

These resources will endeavour to prevent a progression from binge eating to obesity. However, early detection and intervention are necessary in order for treatments to be most effective.

Definition

In the earliest phase of treatment, affect tolerance and structure and the regulation of eating patterns—quantitative and qualitative—are key. In early treatment, structured meal plans are essential for the seemingly random consumption.

Full compliance with the meal plan can reduce binge eating via increases in: 1) negative affect tolerance; 2) sense of control over specific and focused behaviours; 3) willingness to cooperate with treatment. After improvement, the therapeutic focus on eating diminishes.

Binge eating is considered to have occurred when overeating takes place somewhat more rapidly than what is deemed normal and when subjects consuming the food feel they have lost control over how much they eat.

There are defined episodes of binge eating (e.g. engaging in episodes within a discrete period of time or within a particular setting; eating an amount of food that is larger than most people would eat under similar circumstances) and two components of a binge episode: quantity of food consumed and loss of control.

The simultaneously occurring eating occurs in a discrete, recognizably dysfunctional way—providing escape from pain and serving to regulate negative affect. More specific features derive from the treatment and the psychological aspects of various consumption-related characteristics.

Impact

The Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders–IV version of the Structured Clinical Interview for the Diagnosis of DSM-IV (SCID) was conducted in a sample of 504 undergraduate students from a well-known community college. It found that approximately 3% met criteria for BED.

Higher prevalence rates for binge eating, especially in community samples, are becoming increasingly common, with some studies finding rates between 7.5% and 30.2% for clinical and community samples, respectively. Women are thought to be disproportionately impacted by BED, with the gender ratio of women to men tending to be 1.5 to 3:1.

Currently, data concerning race and bias in prevalence rates of BED are scarce. However, some data suggest that there is an apparent underreporting of BED among ethnic minority groups.

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder, surpassing rates of both anorexia and bulimia combined. Prevalence estimates of BED, as measured by both research interviews and the application of diagnostic criteria, have estimated that as much as 165 million adults are impacted by this disorder worldwide.

Disclaimer

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