Advertisement

Binge-eating and bulimia have more in common than doctors realize: study

Exercise regularly, quit smoking and follow the Mediterranean diet. In a new analysis, British researchers outline five ways to keep dementia at bay.
They’re typically seen as two very distinct eating disorders but Harvard researchers say that binge-eating and bulimia have a lot more in common than we realize, especially in the lifelong consequences victims deal with. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/The Muskegon Chronicle, Ken Stevens

TORONTO – They’re typically seen as two very distinct eating disorders but Harvard researchers say that binge-eating and bulimia have a lot more in common than we realize, especially in the lifelong consequences victims deal with.

Binge-eating was only recently added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – or the DSM, dubbed as the bible for mental health professionals. And that addition was one of the key criticisms of the major rewrite.

Doctors suggested that adding binge-eating would be medicalizing something that affects large groups of people simply dealing with overeating.

Read more: Why you should care about changes to the DSM mental-health bible

“It’s medicalizing something that’s a problem, not necessarily a mental disorder. It should not be a psychiatric illness that people eat too much,” Dr. Allen Frances, a former Duke University psychiatrist, told Global News last May.

Story continues below advertisement

Frances, once chair of the DSM-IV taskforce, was a major critic of its latest revisions.

Now, Harvard Medical School scientists say that there’s more to binge-eating and that it shouldn’t be in the shadow of other eating disorders, such as bulimia.

“Binge-eating disorder has been largely ignored by health care providers, but it has a tremendous cost to the physical and psychological well-being of people with the disorder,” lead author Ronald Kessler said.

Read more: Is food addiction real? Harvard study has experts weighing in

While binge-eaters may not be throwing up their meals, they’re taking on the same dangerous habits as those who are bulimic, he said.

The study suggests that both groups have the same amount of sick days at work, and in some cases, they’re both battling depression and thoughts of suicide and they’re plagued with diabetes or problems with their muscles and skeleton.

Both eating disorders also first appear during adolescence. They’re also “generally” undetected by doctors and left untreated, the Harvard research says.

“They’re different manifestations of the same thing – they’re different symptoms of the same illness. It’s hyper-focus on food, one person eats until they can’t eat anymore, another will try to throw it up to lose weight,” Dr. Vera Tarman, a Canadian addictions expert, told Global News.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Is obesity an illness? U.S. medical association recognizes condition as official disease

She thinks that the binge-eating pandemic is only on the medical community’s radar now because of record rates of obesity around the world.

Before binge-eating was added to the DSM, patients would end up in a category called ‘eating disorder not otherwise specified,’ Tarman said. It was general and couldn’t help with offering funding or services to help the patient.

Now, binge-eating could help clarify the condition. Still, Tarman thinks a ‘food addiction’ label needs to be created. Recognizing that addiction is involved is what’s key – it’s providing experts with a causation and not just a list of symptoms.

A new study out last week suggested that one in 20 Canadians is a food addict. Conducted by Memorial University in Newfoundland, it said that about five per cent of Canadian consumers eat until they feel physically ill.

Read more: What one woman in Gabon taught doctors about global obesity

Binge-eating in the DSM isn’t characterized by a night of gluttony while watching the Super Bowl – it’s described as out of control feasting on an inordinate amount of food in a single sitting at least 12 times in three months.

Story continues below advertisement

The study released Monday was published in Epidemiology and Pyschiatric Sciences.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca