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Binge Eating is the most common eating disorder

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 14th 2007

Despite recent media focus on the damaging effects of anorexic behavior in super-skinny runway models and actresses, a more widespread eating issue is currently impacting the health of Americans. New research suggests that binge eating disorder is the most common type of eating disorder, affecting 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men (Biological Psychiatry, Feb 1 2007, Vol 61). Interestingly, this condition has yet to be included in the DSM-IV-TR, the manual used by clinicians to diagnose mental disorders. These findings provide strong support for the idea that binge eating is a "real" disorder that should be included in the next edition of the DSM.

Binging is a period of uncontrolled eating (typically rapid), that continues well past the point of feeling full. Unlike individuals with bulimia, bingers do not use vomiting, laxatives/diuretics, or compulsive exercising as a way to compensate for these episodes. Because people often binge in response to stress, they typically consume large quantities of comfort foods that are high in fat, starch and calories. Unfortunately, eating large quantities of broccoli and tofu doesn't trigger the same comforting chemical response in our brains.

Not surprisingly, binge eating can cause serious health problems. Bingers run a high risk of weight gain, sometimes to the point where severe obesity develops. Diseases related to weight gain and obesity, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers, may also develop. Binge behavior also takes an emotional toll; binge episodes are often accompanied by intense feelings of being out of control and powerless, as well as disgust, shame and depression.

The survey found that people struggle with symptoms of binge eating for an average of eight years before seeking treatment. If you or someone you know displays symptoms of binge eating disorder, it is important to stop this behavior before it seriously impacts your (or your friend's) health. Seek help from a professional with expertise in Eating Disorders. Medical treatment in conjunction with psychotherapy (particularly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) can help you develop skills to replace destructive thoughts and eating behaviors with other activities that are comforting as well as good for you.

Our Eating Disorders topic center offers comprehensive information on all of the eating disorders. Click here to read .

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