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Binge Eating: Why an Official Diagnosis Is Crucial

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“A half-gallon of ice cream was only the beginning. I was capable of consuming 3,000 calories at a sitting. Many mornings I awakened to find partly chewed food still in my mouth….My despair was profound, and one night in the midst of a binge I became suicidal. I had lost control of my eating; it was controlling me, and I couldn’t go on living that way.” Reporter Jane Brody described her binge eating experience in an article for The New York Times.

According to National Institute of Mental Health, binge eating affects from 2 to 5 percent of the population, more than anorexia and bulimia combined. Yet it does not have a formal diagnosis. How can the medical community find treatments for binge eating if it is not elevated to at least the status of a disorder?

In fact, in an article written by Melissa Healy in latimes.com, the author of “Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop,” researcher and eating disorder specialist, Cynthia Bulik Ph.D., claimed the medical community won’t produce the studies to discover the genetic components of binge eating and therapy won’t be covered if we don’t have a firm definition of binge eating. Definitions are serious business in the medical world.

Even though, it is not officially considered a disorder there is a Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). On their website, bedaonline.com, they list binge eating as one of the leading causes of obesity with a plethora of complications including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, gallbladder disease, heart disease, certain types of cancer, osteoarthritis, joint and muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems, depression, anxiety and sleep apnea.

Sounds serious, but in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), binge eating is now listed as an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS),

Furthermore, Michael D Anestis, M.S. of psychotherapybrownbag.com writes that “…between 50 to 70 percent of eating disorder diagnoses are EDNOS.” Explaining why this is a bad idea he said, “…knowing that somebody has EDNOS tells us very little about… what symptoms are causing them distress and/or impairment.” However, Anestis states “… this diagnosis [EDNOS] is…what we are most likely to see listed in the case file.”

Just imagine, you’ve spent the night binging. You feel like you’re going to die so you call 911. By the time the EMTs arrive you’ve passed out. They rush you to the Emergency Room of your hospital and when the ER doctor opens your medical file, he sees the diagnosis of “eating disorder not otherwise specified.” What does that tell the doctor and how will the doctor begin to know how to effectively treat you?

According to Anestis there is hope. Several researchers are working to group together eating disorders with similar symptoms so that there will be less EDNOS diagnoses and a clearer explanation of what the patient is actually suffering from.

Hopefully, placing larger numbers of patients in official eating disorder categories may prompt additional financial coverage and, as importantly, the further studies needed to find effective treatments for the victims who suffer from eating disorders.


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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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