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If you're on a diet, be wary of binges
Strict diets can trigger binge eating

Date published: 1/17/2010

SOME PEOPLE'S New Year's resolutions to go on strict diets can trigger scary eating binges.

Binge eating is not just stuffing yourself on holidays. It means uncontrolled overeating to the point of being uncomfortably full at least twice a week. Many people with the disorder feel ashamed and eat in secret. For example, one of my patients broke down and sobbed when I innocently asked her what she had eaten the day before.

About 3 percent of Americans have binge-eating disorder, making it more common than anorexia nervosa and bulimia, according to a Harvard University study. Men and women of all races and classes are affected. Most binge eaters eventually become overweight.

Controversial research suggests that binge eating may be a type of addiction, similar to alcoholism and drug addiction. Like those compulsions, binge eating disorder can be treated with antidepressant medicines and psychological counseling, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Many people with binge eating disorder also suffer from depression, low self-esteem and trouble expressing emotions. Some overeaters have been victims of sexual abuse. As with other addictions, research suggests there may be some inherited tendencies, as well as changes in brain chemistry.

Research shows people who undergo weight-loss surgery are nearly six times more likely than average to have existing eating disorders. And while bariatric surgery may help with weight loss, it does not cure underlying eating disorders, according to German research. So, it's important to get help.


Talk therapy can help considerably, according to psychiatrists at Rutgers University in New Jersey. This month, they published research comparing two types of counseling: interpersonal therapy, which focuses on people's relationships and communication skills; and cognitive-behavioral therapy, which targets dysfunctional thoughts and feelings.

In a two-year study, researchers found that people who got either type of counseling were 20 percent more likely to stop bingeing than folks who tried diet and exercise.

Group therapy is also helpful, according to University of Minnesota Medical School researchers. After 20 weeks of therapy, people in groups led by professional therapists were more likely to have stopped bingeing than people in self-help support groups.

Nearly 52 percent of those in a therapist-led group stopped bingeing, compared to 18 percent in the self-help groups and 10 percent of the people who got no treatment at all.

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The National Eating Disorders Association, a Seattle-based nonprofit group, provides information and links to therapists: nationaleatingdisor ders.org or 800/931-2237.

American Dietetic Association, a nonprofit group in Chicago, provides info on healthy eating and links to dietitians nationwide: eatright.org or 800/877-1600, ext. 4844

Overeaters Anonymous is a nonprofit 12-step support group patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. They have meetings in person, online, and by telephone: oa.org or 505/891-2664.

The Center for Mindful eating is a nonprofit site that has information for everyday people and health professionals about an eating philosophy that can help people slow down and enjoy food: tcme.org

Nourishing Connections is a Web site run by a dietitian and therapist team. They offer a free, printable form for journaling your food intake, moods and hunger and fullness: nourishingcon nections.com/handouts .html.

The self-help book "Intuitive Eating," by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, has useful tips for making peace with food and exercise.

--Jennifer Motl

Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin.