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Compulsive Overeating (Binge Eating Disorder)

Everybody overeats sometimes. It may be associated with celebrations, such as a promotion at work, or just getting together with friends. Sometimes, however, one overeats to the point of distress without any associated precipitating event.

Binge Eating Disorder was initially described 50 years ago; but it has only been in recent years that the extent of this disorder has been known. It is characterized by the following diagnostic criteria:

  1. Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:

    1. Eating, in a discrete period of time (such as, within any two-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.

    2. A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (such as, a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).

  2. The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:

    1. Eating much more rapidly than normal.

    2. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.

    3. Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.

    4. Eating alone because embarrassed by how much one is eating.

    5. Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating.

  3. There is marked distress regarding binge-eating.

  4. The binge eating occurs, on average, at least two days a week for six months.

  5. The binge eating is not associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors, such as, purging, fasting, excessive exercise; and does not occur exclusively during the course of Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa.

Binge eating disorder is associated with obesity - usually with more severe obesity. Over 30% of individuals seeking medical treatment for obesity, and in some surveys, up to 50% of individuals being seen in non-medical weight reduction programs, meet the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder is also frequently (50% of the time) associated with major depression. Binge episodes may result from any number of factors, but are frequently set off by stressful events; and the eating episodes most commonly occur in the late afternoon or evening.

Unfortunately, relatively few physicians and healthcare professionals screen for binge eating when evaluating patients for weight management. However, without screening for, identifying, and treating binge eating, weight management interventions are extremely difficult.

Compulsive Overeating (Binge Eating Disorder)

Studies show that individuals who are treated for binge eating disorder and abstain from the binge episodes are much more likely to benefit from a weight management program. Furthermore, other studies suggest that obesity and binge eating disorder can be treated concurrently and successfully. Treatment of binge eating disorder may include medications, usually a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor type of antidepressant, even when depression is not present. Other treatments include the use of certain atypical anticonvulsants. This may seem strange, but these drugs are effective because of their effects on areas of the brain involved with impulse control and binge eating (obviously, not because they are preventing seizures). The addition of a type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy, which is performed by a licensed clinician, can also be very helpful.

Although you may have suffered with this disorder for years and you may feel alone, you are not. Treatment is generally very helpful in reducing or eliminating the binge eating episodes and can easily be incorporated into your lifestyle.

Updated: 27 December 2011

Copyright © 1996 -2011 Michael D. Myers, M.D., Inc.
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Disclaimer Statement

The above information is for general purposes only and should not be construed as definitive or binding medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Because each person is medically different, individuals should consult their own personal physicians for specific information and/or treatment recommendations.