How this eating disorder is different from anorexia and bulimia. By Sasha Gonzales
Those with Binge Eating Disorder are usually overweight or obese, according to the US National Institute of Mental Health. (Photo: bowie15 / www.123rf.com)
“Binge Eating Disorder is characterised by episodes of compulsive overeating, during which the sufferer consumes excessive amounts of food, while feeling a loss of control and an inability to stop eating,” explains Dr Adrian Wang of Dr Adrian Wang Psychiatric & Counselling Care at Gleneagles Medical Centre.
“People with Binge Eating Disorder describe themselves finishing several loaves of bread, entire boxes of biscuits or even the contents of their refrigerator in one sitting. They are not necessarily hungry when it happens, but tend to binge when they feel bored, depressed or anxious. They are often embarrassed about these episodes, but continue to do it regularly – a few times a week – and often in secret.”
In 2013, Binge Eating Disorder was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders in US, this disorder is more common than anorexia and bulimia, with about 5 per cent of women suffering from Binge Eating Disorder.
We ask Dr Adrian Wang and Dr Ng Kah Wee, associate consultant at the Singapore General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry, to shed light on this condition.
How is Binge Eating Disorder different from other disorders?
Dr Wang: Compared with other eating disorders like anorexia (which involves a strict control of food intake although some sufferers may engage in binge eating afterward) or bulimia (sufferers have frequent and recurrent episodes of uncontrollable binges), the Binge Eating Disorder sufferer is not so concerned with body image and weight control. And no one knows the exact cause of Binge Eating Disorder. There may be biological factors in the brain that predispose a person to it, but psychological factors are likely to play an important role as well.
Is Binge Eating Disorder similar to food addiction?
Dr Wang: There are some overlaps between the two, but they are not the same. Binge Eating Disorder is like an addiction in that the trigger factors are stress-related, and the behaviour temporarily helps the sufferer feel better. But with Binge Eating Disorder, the core feature is eating so much that one experiences a loss of control, guilt and shame.
Who is the typical Binge Eating Disorder sufferer?
Dr Wang: Binge Eating Disorder is more commonly seen in people with self-esteem, weight and/or mood problems. Binge eating appears to be a coping mechanism during times of stress. As with anorexia and bulimia, the typical Binge Eating Disorder sufferer is female.
Females with self-esteem and mood problems are at greater risk of Binge Eating Disorder. (Photo: Ramdlon / www.pixabay.com)
What may trigger a Binge Eating Disorder episode?
Dr Ng: Common emotional triggers include anger, sadness, hunger, loneliness and sometimes, even tiredness.
Why is Binge Eating Disorder difficult to diagnose?
Dr Ng: Binge Eating Disorder may masquerade as obesity, so the symptoms may not be as easily recognised or detected. Sufferers may also not seek help until their condition becomes severe or when they develop health problems such as diabetes or high cholesterol.
What treatment is available for Binge Eating Disorder?
Dr Wang: Psychotherapy and counselling can help. Stress management techniques are useful, but a deeper type of psychological treatment called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help the sufferer understand her thought processes and change some of her core beliefs and preconceptions. Medication such as antidepressants are also sometimes used. Psychiatrists, psychologists and nutritionists may be part of a larger team to help the sufferer.