You've probably heard of anorexia and bulimia, two widely recognized eating disorders. However, binge eating disorder is far more prevalent. It affects roughly 3.5 percent of American women and 2 percent of men, and occurs more frequently in minorities.

The Binge Eating Disorder Association defines the disease as eating more than normal within a two-hour period at least twice per week for six or more months. Unlike bulimia, binge eaters do not purge after they eat. They feel a lack of control during the eating episode and suffer guilt, shame, and distress from their overeating.

Binge eaters are usually overweight or obese (about eight percent of obese individuals also have binge eating disorder), which leads to other, serious health conditions, stress, sleep problems, and suicidal thoughts. Binge eating disorder often co-exists with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, impulsive behavior, and personality disorder. There is a strong genetic component to eating disorders. Recent research found that the influence of heredity on eating disorders increased from zero risk to 50 percent (or more) following puberty.

Unfortunately, physicians often do not diagnose-or treat-binge eating disorders. Until very recently, the American Psychological Association did not have a formal diagnosis of the condition. It finally added it to the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders and hopes this will make physicians more aware of the problem.

Within the mental health community, there are two schools of thought about how to treat binge eating. One group believes physicians should treat the eating disorder and underlying mental health problem; the other wants them to treat the obesity. Experts also suspect there are two groups of binge eaters: those who have eating disorders but less serious psychological problems, and another group that has more long-term, established psychological difficulties. These differences may influence treatment decisions.

The good news is that binge eating responds well to treatment. Physicians may treat binge eaters with appetite suppressants, psychotherapy, nutritional advice, antidepressant medications, or some combination of therapies.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps patients change their thoughts and behaviors, is an effective treatment. Some mental health experts recommended guided, self-help based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as the first line of treatment in treating binge eating.

Eating disorders have become one of the nation's deadliest psychological conditions. If you, or a loved one, are a binge eater, seek professional treatment promptly.


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