Binge-eating disorder is a serious mental health issue

If you consistently consume large quantities of food and feel unable to stop, you may be suffering from binge-eating disorder (BED). It’s the most common eating disorder in the United States and should be taken very, very seriously.

We’re not talking about overeating. We all eat too much occasionally – Thanksgiving dinner comes to mind – but for some of us, excessive overeating that makes us feel out of control and becomes a regular occurrence crosses the line.

Mayo Clinic explains that the behavioral and emotional signs and symptoms of binge-eating disorder include:

“Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as over a 2-hour period. Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control. Eating even when you’re full or not hungry. Eating rapidly during binge episodes. Eating until you’re uncomfortably full. Frequently eating alone or in secret. Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating and frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss.”

Unlike the person with bulimia, who purges after eating, the binge-eater doesn’t compensate for the extra calories so often is overweight or even obese. However, it’s important to point out that not all obese people suffer from BED nor are all BED sufferers overweight. The severity of the disorder is determined by how often episodes occur during a week.

If you have any of the above symptoms, you should seek help from your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. It won’t get better by itself. The first step to healing is being able to talk openly about the disorder and, hopefully, friends and family will be supportive.

“The causes of binge-eating disorder are unknown. But genetics, biological factors, long-term dieting and psychological issues increase your risk,” Mayo Clinic says.

If your parents or siblings have or had an eating disorder you may have inherited genes that increase your risk. Often people with BED feel negatively about themselves, their skills and their accomplishments and triggers can include stress, poor self-image and boredom.

Although BED can occur at any age, it often starts when someone is in their late teens. Statistically, women are more likely to develop the disorder, 60 percent to 40 percent of men. In women, binge eating disorder is most common in early adulthood while men tend to develop it in mid-life.

Psychological and physical problems can occur. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says that the disorder is often associated with symptoms of depression. Those suffering from BED often express distress, shame and guilt over their eating behaviors.

“People with binge-eating disorder report a lower quality of life than those without binge eating disorder,” NEDA says. “Compared with normal weight or obese control groups, people with BED have higher levels of anxiety and both current and lifetime major depression.”

Besides the psychological effects, the potential physical consequences include those consistent with obesity such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, fatigue, joint pain and sleep apnea.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association lists binge eating disorder as a diagnosable eating disorder. The advantage of this is that treatment should be covered under your insurance.

“Many people suffering from binge eating disorder report that it is a stigmatized and frequently misunderstood disease.” NEDA says. They also say that public awareness that BED is an actual diagnosis is necessary in order that sufferers find the resources and support they need.

Treatment will vary patient to patient, but the Mayo Clinic says that it might include cognitive behavioral therapy to help you better cope with the issues that trigger an episode; interpersonal psychotherapy that focuses on relationships, and dialectical behavior therapy that teaches you the skills to tolerate stress and regulate your emotions. There are also drugs on the market that may help.

It’s up to you and your medical team to decide what’s best for you. But it can’t happen until you make the call. You don’t have to live with this disorder. Chew on that for a minute.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.