Norman Regional Health System

Monday, January 16, 2023

This week is Obesity Awareness Week. A time to offer resources, information and conversations about obesity and its many variables in an effort to provide more clarity and education around the condition. The topic of this blog focuses on an issue that is associated with obesity, but often times occurs in people who don’t have obesity as well; binge eating disorder.

If you are familiar with eating disorders, there is a good chance you have heard of binge eating disorder (BED). While it is a relatively well known form of disordered eating, there are many aspects of it that aren’t very well known. Like the fact that restrictive diets and food insecurity are significant risk factors. Or the fact that eating disorders are currently affecting nine percent of the U.S. population with binge eating disorder (BED) being the most common. Even with BED being the most prevalent eating disorder, it continues to be underdiagnosed and many may not even realize they are experiencing it.Prevalence__ResizedImageWzQ4MSw0NjJd.png (133 KB)

What is binge eating disorder?

BED, is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, often accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt, and a lack of control. BED is different from occasional binge eating, which is a less severe form of disordered eating that does not meet the criteria for a formal diagnosis.

“Usually if someone has binge eating disorder, they display a pattern that is reoccurring and there is a psychological diagnosis associated with it,” said Ashley Carreon, MS, RDN/LD, a registered dietitian with Journey Clinic. “When we assess for binge eating, we have some patients that say they are a binge eater and often times they explain to me something that is more along the lines of basic over eating, like during thanksgiving for example.”

Individuals with BED may eat large amounts of food even when they are not physically hungry, and they may feel a sense of relief or pleasure during the binge-eating episode, which contributes to the compulsive nature of it. However, this relief is usually followed by feelings of guilt, shame and self-loathing. BED can have a significant impact on an individual's physical and mental health, as well as their quality of life.

“There is an association between depression and anxiety, higher BMI, restricted diet and binge eating,” said Laure DeMattia, DO, a medical weight lost specialist with Journey Clinic.

What causes binge eating disorder?

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of BED, including genetic predisposition, emotional trauma and environmental triggers. For example, stress, anxiety, and depression can all contribute to the development of BED. Additionally, individuals with BED may have a history of dieting or food insecurity, which can lead to feelings of restriction and deprivation that can trigger binge-eating episodes.

“Food insecurity presents a unique pathway to binge eating, so it is important for us to screen for food insecurity. If someone is food insecure, there is that added factor of having loss of control, not only with food choices, but the amount of food eaten,” said Carreon. “It has a lot to do with the unpredictability of when food will be available again.”

So we see how food insecurity can lead to binge eating and restrictive diets are linked to binge eating as well. While the socioeconomic factors around restrictive diets and food insecurity differ, the ways they trigger binge eating are similar as they both deprive the individual of food for extended periods.

“A lot of binge eating has to do with the reward pathways in our brain and how food can be very rewarding, even hyper-rewarding in some individuals,” said Carreon.

So when someone is on a very restrictive diet, depriving themselves of food, it can make that rewarding feeling much more powerful when they do eat, often creating the perfect setup for binge eating.

Treatment options for binge eating disorder

BED and other eating disorders are incredibly nuanced and vary greatly in nature for each individual. Because of this, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. However, it usually starts with changing the way we perceive food.

“The first step is to try and re-frame the relationship with food. Food is neither good nor bad and in the disordered eating world people tend to place rules on food in that way,” said Dr. DeMattia.

“Food is food. It’s important to reinforce consistent eating patterns to feel full and satisfied, but not overly full. Skipping or restricting whole groups of food sets people for binge symptoms.“

We understand that the path to recovery can be difficult, but with the right support and resources, individuals with BED can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their overall health and well-being.

To schedule an appointment with Journey Clinic, visit here.

If you are in Oklahoma and need access to eating disorder resources, you can find a resource directory here.

If you are in crisis and need help immediately regarding BED or other eating disorders, you can contact NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) by calling 800-931-2237 or texting “NEDA” to 741741.