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Binge Eating Disorder FAQs

Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

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Q:How is binge eating disorder best described?

A:Binge eating disorder (BED) involves eating an unusually large amount of food at one sitting, a loss of control over one's eating habits, and can cause people to be overweight and even obese.

Many people who have binge eating disorder feel guilt, shame, and distress after a binge, which can lead to more binge eating. Binge eating disorder does not involve compensatory behavior such as vomiting or laxative abuse such as with bulimia nervosa.

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Q:Poor self-control is the cause of binge eating disorder. True or false?

A:False.

Poor self-control has nothing to do with binge eating disorder. While the causes of binge eating and other eating disorders remain unknown, it is believed they involve abnormal brain activity. Some factors that may affect binge eating include:
-Depression. Nearly half of all people with binge eating disorder have suffered from depression at some point.
-Dieting. When people skip meals or don't eat enough, it may trigger binge eating episodes.
-Coping skills. Some studies have found people who binge eat may have difficulty dealing with some emotions. Anger, sadness, boredom, stress, and anxiety may cause people to binge eat.
-Biology. Brain chemicals and metabolism (the way the body uses calories) may affect binge eating disorder. Genes may also be a factor in binge eating, since the disorder may run in the family.

Some behaviors and emotional problems are seen more frequently in people with binge eating disorder, including alcohol abuse, impulsive behavior, and feelings of not having control over themselves or not feeling a part of their communities.

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Q:Binge eating disorder affects women more than men. True or false?

A:True.

Binge eating disorder affects women more than men. About 4 million people in the U.S. have binge eating disorder. At a young age, girls start to become concerned about their weight or body shape, and by elementary school (ages 6-12) up to 60% of girls worry about their weight or becoming overweight. This anxiety may follow them into adulthood, and might explain why more women than men may have eating disorders.

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Q:What are common eating behaviors of people with binge eating disorder?

A:People with binge eating disorder commonly eat quickly during a binge; eat to the point of physical discomfort, and eat without being hungry.

They are often upset or embarrassed by their binge eating, and will eat alone, feeling depressed and guilty after they have overeaten. They may feel so disgusted with themselves they miss work, school or social activities and binge eat.

People with binge eating disorder tend to report more health problems including stress, difficulty sleeping, and suicidal thoughts than people who don't have eating disorders.

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Q:What may be affected in people with binge eating disorder?

A:Memory, sleep, and heart function may all be affected in people with binge eating disorder.

Memory, sleep, heart function, sexual function, physical growth and development, appetite and digestion, kidney function, emotions and thinking are all regulated by the neuroendocrine system.

It is believed that the neuroendocrine system in people with eating disorders may not be functioning properly.

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Q:Why do people tend to binge eat?

A:People tend to binge eat because they feel stress or anxiety they are trying to relieve with food, usually junk foods.

People who have binge eating disorder are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

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Q:Is binge eating disorder linked to any other disorder or mental illness?

A:There is a link between binge eating disorder and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

As stated in previous slides, people with binge eating disorder also tend to suffer from depression and anxiety. There may be a link between these disorders, as biochemical similarities have been discovered between people with eating disorders and OCD.

Antidepressant medications that affect serotonin function in the body can be helpful for some people with binge eating disorder.

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Q:Besides overweight/obesity, what other health risks are associated with binge eating disorder?

A:There are many health risks associated with binge eating disorder.

Besides overweight/obesity other health risks are associated with binge eating disorder include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease (results from elevated triglyceride levels)
- Type II diabetes
- Gallbladder disease
- Musculoskeletal problems

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Q:On average, a binge eater will consume about 35,000 calories in one sitting. True or false?

A:False.

A binge eater may consume from 5,000 to 15,000 calories all in one sitting. This may be in addition to meals, snacks, and overeating throughout the day. Binge eating disorder may occur on its own or be accompanied by another eating disorder such as bulimia. In bulimia people binge eat and then purge the foods they've eaten, often by vomiting laxative use, or excessive exercise.

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