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Binge-eating disorder is more common than bulimia or anorexia

KINGMAN ­ Pressures of day-to-day living can lead to numerous health problems.

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia are potentially life-threatening conditions that often are highlighted in television news stories. But there is another problem more common than either one, according to Shannon Parnett, clinical dietician at Kingman Regional Medical Center.

"Binge eating is the most common type of eating disorder, although it's not life threatening," Parnett said.

Information posted on the Web site of the National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov) states 2-5 percent of Americans experience binge-eating disorder in any six-month period. Episodes are associated with three of the following: eating more rapidly than normal; eating until feeling uncomfortably full; eating larger amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry; eating alone because of embarrassment caused by their food intake; feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or guilty after overeating.

Binge eating occurs, on average, at least two days per week during the six-month period. Unlike people afflicted with bulimia, binge-eaters do not purge themselves of excess calories, thus resulting in an overweight condition for one's age and height.

Bulimics typically purge food from their bodies by self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or other means.

Anorexia nervosa is a psychological disorder characterized by an aversion to eating and fear of gaining weight.

Women seem more susceptible to bulimia and anorexia nervosa.

"That's probably due to society's pressure to be thin, which focuses more on women than men," Parnett said.

"Any eating disorder must be diagnosed. Some people are naturally thin with a high body metabolism, so they can eat, eat, eat and not gain a pound."

The National Eating Disorders Association notes on its Web site (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) that males can be afflicted with the same problems.

It states eating disorders are illnesses with a biological basis modified and influenced by emotional and cultural factors. The stigma associated with eating disorders has long kept individuals suffering in silence, inhibited funding for critical research and created barriers to treatment. Because of insufficient information, the public and professionals fail to recognize the dangerous consequences of eating disorders. While eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses, there is help available and recovery is possible. "Bulimia is probably more common (than anorexia nervosa)," said Dawn Abbott, clinical director of Mohave Mental Health. "Anorexia is potentially more life threatening with a 20-30 percent mortality rate.

"Women are more commonly identified as having those eating disorders. Now, more research suggests they affect men at the same rate, but more women seek treatment than men."

Doctors or qualified medical professionals such as licensed therapists and psychologists could diagnose someone with an eating disorder, Abbott said.

"They look for particular behaviors," she said.

"With anorexia, they would identify a persistent inability to maintain a normal body weight and seek an acknowledgement from that person on their thoughts and feelings about their body and weight."

"Bulimia would be much the same, but without the inability to maintain body weight. Bulimics are normally within 5-15 pounds of their ideal body weight."

There are a number of treatment options available for individuals afflicted with an eating disorder. They include psychiatric intervention, psychotherapy, working with a nutritionist, exercise or fitness coach, and collaborating with a primary care physician, Abbott said.

People afflicted with anorexia nervosa and bulimia need to be aware of the nutritional aspects of both illnesses.

Parnett said they include malnutrition and electrolyte imbalance that could lead to dehydration, irregular heartbeat, heart disease and kidney failure.