New Haven Register

Ask local residents what they think is the most common eating disorder, and chances are the majority won’t provide the correct answer. While anorexia and bulimia are conditions most associated with eating disorders, binge eating disorder is actually the most prevalent, affecting approximately 4.2 million American women and 2.3 million men, many right here in Southern and Coastal Connecticut.

Despite its widespread prevalence, binge eating disorder is a highly misunderstood condition. While the mental health field has been studying and treating binge eating disorder for decades, it only made its way into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a formal diagnosis in 2013. Additionally, many of those personally impacted may not even be aware of the condition or associated symptoms, and many times, fail to seek adequate treatment.

The reality is that binge eating disorder affects those of all genders, of every ethnicity, racial background, sexual orientation, socio-economic strata and age group. We see it occurring most often in adults, specifically mid-20s and older, but it can transcend into adolescence and young adulthood. Chances are that binge eating disorder touches your family, friends or even yourself personally. To help you better understand the condition – and learn where to turn when needed – let’s take a closer look at it.

First off, binge eating disorder is often confused with terms like overeating and emotional eating. While there are some parallels, the behavior in binge eating disorder is more distinct. Individuals consume abnormally large amounts of food over a short period of time, at least once a week (sometimes many more) and often in secret. It may start as an intense craving or urge to eat, but eventually lead to feelings of being “zoned out” with an extreme loss of control. Sometimes one might eat to the point feeling physically uncomfortable or in pain. What’s even more important is what happens next — those with binge eating disorder experience intense feelings of guilt, embarrassment or depression after a binge episode.

This pattern can have a significant effect on relationships, work productivity, sleep and overall quality of life.

A combination of factors can contribute to the onset and maintenance of binge eating disorder. Affected individuals often report a history of attempts to lose weight via restrictive diets, or in some cases, yo-yo weight cycling (repetitive periods of weight loss followed by weight gain).

Many people report that they were the subject of frequent critical comments about weight and shape from peers, healthcare professionals or even family members prior to the onset of the binge eating. We also know that binge eating disorder has genetic component as it tends to run in families.

Binge eating disorder often gets lost in the world of weight loss programs and dieting, which can further compound the situation. It’s important to note that weight gain is not necessarily coupled with binge eating disorder — it impacts those of all body types and sizes. However weight gain can result from binge eating behaviors. In those cases, many people turn to weight loss programs or the latest fad diets in an effort to change their appearance or shape. All too often people with binge eating disorder attempt to restrict their eating which leads to increased binge eating.

The answer to this problem is not found at a weight loss clinic, it’s a psychological issue that requires cognitive and behavioral change.

Psychotherapists and dieticians can help identify negative emotions and urges and replace binge eating with more effective responses and coping skills. Ideally, these outpatient providers specialize in the treatment of eating disorders and specifically binge eating disorder. Therapists with experience in cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) or interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) can be helpful, as these therapies are proven to reduce binge eating behavior.

Other individuals may require more structured and intensive outpatient programs like those we offer at our clinic in Guilford.

We know that increased awareness of your thoughts and emotions will lead to greater understanding and awareness of patterns of behavior. The more you learn about yourself, the easier it is to interrupt the pattern of binge eating. People can also learn to respond to stress in alternative ways, that don’t involve food, which also supports the goal to stop binge eating. Getting treated for binge eating disorder can be difficult and time intensive, but it will allow you to reconnect with your goals and priorities and live the life you want to be living.