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Anxiety and Stress Management

with Patricia A. Farrell, PhD

The Anxiety and Stress Management blog has now been retired. You can still find Dr. Farrell at the WebMD Anxiety & Panic Disorders Exchange. And you can visit the Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center for more information about these conditions.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Binge Eating Now Recognized

When I suggested to my dissertation committee almost 20 years ago that I wanted to do research on binge eating in women over 30, they told me that I really meant bulimia. No, I insisted, I wanted to do a study of binge eating and stress, not bulimia. I had to keep making this case over and over again as each member and many of the professionals with whom I consulted told me that there was no such thing as a problem with binge eating that needed to be studied. I should study bulimia, they suggested. I stuck to my resolve to study binge eating and I found it in about half of the 512 women who returned research materials to me.

The oldest woman in my study was 74 and she was a binge eater. There was no particular characteristic of the binge eater except that she seemed to do it when stressed. Many of the women in my study were professionals, some were nurses, physicians, teachers, doctoral students and all of them were over 30.

The point I wanted to make was that disorders of eating were found in more than the adolescents and college women that everyone was studying. I also felt, although I didn’t include that in my study, that it had nothing to do with body image or following the crowd. I was right and now a much larger and more impressive study has found that, indeed, binge eating is a problem.

Binge eating is now considered a disorder and the researchers from McLean Hospital indicated that it is “the most common eating disorder.” They found that binge eating is more prevalent than bulimia or anorexia nervosa and is linked to severe obesity. Not only is it more prevalent, it lasts longer than either of the other two disorders; around 8.1 years while anorexia lasts about 1.7 years. Of the sample of 9,282 people that they used for data analysis, 3.5 per cent of women and 2 per cent of men suffered from binge eating disorder.

The conclusions of the researchers, too, were that there was poor understanding of the disorder and suggested that “health experts take notice of these findings.”

I’m sorry it took so long for me to be right on this one, but I was and that was almost 20 years ago.

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Posted by: Patricia Farrell, PhD at 12:14 pm

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