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Eating Disorders: Binge Eating is Officially a Mental Disorder

binge eatingWhile bulimia and anorexia nervosa are both categorized (and treated) as mental disorders, only recently did binge eating receive the same classification. The American Psychiatric Association decided to add binge eating, along with Asperger’s, bipolar disorder and “cutting” to their new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Defined as an episode of eating large or excessive amounts of food even when not hungry, binge eating is often followed by feelings of regret and depression. Though most people may experience episodes of binge eating, diagnosis is usually based on how often it happens and just how intense the feelings of anguish and despair are.

Binge eating is most commonly associated with middle-aged men and women. The recurrent, persistent and frequent episodes of overeating affect 2-5% of Americans, and often they face the eating disorder for the duration of their lives without seeking help. Seeking treatment is important not only to address the issue, but also to deal with related symptoms such as weight gain. Researchers are still unsure what causes binge eating, but with this announcement, many expect that binge eating will receive more attention and more research, helping to not only find the root of the issue but also a more effective treatment methods.

Before this announcement, the manual listed binge eating in its appendix, but since this major revision (the first in 15 years) binge eating has merited its classification as a separate mental disorder. Columbia University Medical Center’s Dr. B. Timothy Walsh, who chaired the revision, saw that binge eating needed to be addressed separately from other disorders, even if it is often associated with bulimia.

“There’s no consensus as to what is the best treatment,” Walsh says. “Several types of medications appear helpful, as do several types of psychological treatment.”

While some doctors have been treating binge eating with therapy and medication even before this new classification. Treatment can also involve a dietician, who can help with a weight-loss regime and nutritional education, something that can often be overlooked by treating binge eating as a purely psychological disorder.

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