Binge Eating Disorder: New Approaches to Appetite Control

ice creamToday I attended a conference presented by Walden Behavioral Care on the topic of Binge Eating Disorder (BED). Dr. James Greenblatt, Chief Medical Officer at Walden and author of the book “Answers to Appetite Control:New Hope for Binge Eating and Weight Management”  spoke about the complicated interactions between our physiology and brain when it comes to binge eating.  There are specific criteria that define a diagnosis of BED and just one of the criteria includes “recurrent episodes of binge eating characterized by both of the following: (1) consuming an abnormally large amount of food in a short period of time compared to what others might eat in the same amount of time and under the same or similar circumstances, and (2) experiencing a loss of control over eating during the episode. Additionally, in BED there is “significant distress” about the binge eating.

Dr. Greenblatt stressed that some binge eaters experience cravings that are physiologically based, in other words, the cravings are a result of your biology rather than just the environment or a social trigger. In fact, some research showed that brain scans of those who scored higher on a “food addiction” rating scale were similar to those of drug addicts.  There was an elevated activation in the reward circuitry in response to food cues. Again, this does not mean that if you binge eat, you are “addicted” to food, but that everyone is different and some people have the physiology that makes it much harder (and it is not their fault).

In addition, disordered eating such as binge eating often co-exists with mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, depression and ADHD . In fact, ADHD has been linked to BED (apparently the act of chewing helps to decrease day dreaming brain waves and helps you pay attention). The odds of developing a binge eating disorder is 12 X greater in children with ADHD. Dr. Greenblatt stressed the importance of treating the mood disorder first before the binge eating could be addressed.

Another very important point was regarding the importance of protein. There are over 250 neurotransmitters that send impulses throughout our brains and affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, many of these directly affecting our appetite regulatory mechanisms. They are all derived from amino acids. Adequate protein intake is critical, often an issue for some. For example,  vegetarians and vegans may not get enough protein (especially if they are not educated on nutrition) and chronic dieters often have inadequate intakes. And, even if a person does consume adequate protein, it may not always be available, such as in the case of insufficient digestive enzymes or excessive antacid use.

Finally, there was mention of how for a small percentage of people, certain foods substances may contribute to food addiction and binge eating, such as high fructose corn syrup and MSG (he also discussed the gluten craze as well as casein but I may save that for another post!) This does not mean we need to cut out any foods  or that we should never eat them, it just is important to have balance in your life.

The importance of medication (such as mood stabilizers) in some cases was also  mentioned, as well as how medication was not helpful in other cases. The bottom line is that everyone is different, and it is very important to get evaluated by a professional. BED is a serious and debilitating eating disorder, but there is help.

If you are interested in the book which contains a wealth of information from Dr. Greenblatt, check out: 

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