Binge Eating Disorder and Diabetes (Part 1)

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If you’re a regular reader of Diabetes Self-Management E-News, you’re probably familiar with the surveys that are featured in the newsletter. Maybe you’ve even participated in a few. Back in the fall, a survey was posted regarding "bad habits." Out of 130 responses, 50% of people responded that the bad habit they most wanted to tackle was binge eating. That’s a pretty high percentage. Hopefully, we’ll see this number drop during 2008!

In the spirit of the new year, new beginnings, and new habits, I thought I’d delve a little deeper into binge eating, or, as it’s more accurately termed, “binge eating disorder.” Binge eating disorder (BED) is defined as eating an excessively large amount of food over a two-hour period without being able to stop. Now, I don’t want to imply that munching on a bowl of chips during the Patriots game or polishing off half a bag of M&M’s in one go constitutes binge eating disorder. But because BED may be somewhat common in people with Type 2 diabetes, I thought that it would be a topic worth exploring a little further.

Here are some interesting facts about BED from a study published last year in the journal Biological Psychiatry:

  • 40% of binge eaters are men, although women are twice as likely as men to have eating disorders.
  • BED is strongly linked with obesity, which, in turn can lead to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
  • Almost 80% of people with BED meet the criteria for another psychiatric disorder.
  • Less than half of those with BED seek treatment.

The authors of this particular study noted that BED is a major health problem, yet physicians are not as aware of it as, say, anorexia or bulimia. This is due, in part, to the fact that those who suffer from BED tend to not display physical signs, other than maybe being overweight or obese.

What are the signs and symptoms of BED? If you’re wondering if you might have BED, ask yourself if you find yourself:

  • Eating much more food during a binge episode than during a typical meal or snack
  • Eating faster than usual
  • Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable or being in pain
  • Feeling that this eating behavior is out of control
  • Frequent episodes of binge eating
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, or upset over the amount of food eaten
  • Hiding or hoarding food
  • Feeling depressed or anxious in general
  • Feeling unhappy about your body weight, shape, and/or physical appearance

Many people with BED are overweight or obese, but not all. Some mental health experts speculate that because those with BED tend not to try and purge themselves of the excess food they’ve just eaten (as those with bulimia do), perhaps BED is really a type of obesity disorder, rather than an eating disorder. Others question whether BED is even really a type of disorder or condition, as opposed to a clustering of symptoms.

Despite the lack of consensus on whether it’s truly an eating disorder or not, the fact remains that about 2% of American adults (about 4 million) have BED. Furthermore, between 10% and 15% of people who are trying to lose weight either on their own or with the help of a commercial weight-loss program have BED. And BED is just as common among African-Americans as it is among whites.

Next week, we’ll look at possible causes of BED, why it may be more common in people with diabetes, and treatment options.

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