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David Baxter

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Binge Eating is America's Most Common Disorder
Thursday, February 01, 2007

The dramatic effects of anorexia and bulimia glean a great deal of attention from the American press, but binge eating is a far more common disorder, according to a report calling itself the first full national census of eating disorders. Defined as a tendency toward regular bouts of uncontrollable overeating (at least twice a week), the binge phenomenon effects, according to researchers, up to 3.5 percent of American women and 2 percent of men. In contrast, anorexia occurs in less than one percent of women and 0.3 percent of men. Binge eating is not only the most common but the most persistent of these behaviors. Patients with the disorder display symptoms for an average of 14.4 years, far longer than the average instance of anorexia (5.9 years).

The most effective method of human consumption is eating moderate amounts at regular intervals. Binge eating operates as the inverse of this equation, and its obvious health threats do not stop at extreme weight gain. It significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain forms of cancer. In the public eye, binge eating springs from a faulty sense of self-discipline rather than a diagnosable physical condition, but it is very much a clinical disorder, often occurring in tandem with major depression and anxiety. It also bears striking similarities to alcoholism in that the binge eater usually has a foreboding sense of what is about to occur before each incident and makes an internal promise to stop at one snack before quickly falling into familiar destructive habits as the cycle completes itself. Internal disgust, regret and a diminished sense of self follow each incident. Because of the current survey's voluntary interview format, researchers believe that a considerable number of interviewees suffering from binge eating disorders chose not to come forward due to personal shame.

Those with relatives who suffer from various eating disorders are more likely to encounter the same problems, leading researchers to believe that its origins are both genetic and environmental (much like obesity itself). Those whose binge eating threatens to interfere with their careers, personal relationships and general quality of life may find relief through group therapy, behavioral weight loss management, or medication. The study's authors believe that binge eating deserves considerably more attention from all corners of the health care world. If the disorder can be singled out as a psychiatric root of obesity, doctors may offer better treatments to overweight patients who did not arrive at their current states strictly by choice or personal neglect. Binge eating, far from a laughing matter, has become a national epidemic.
 

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