Groundbreaking Study on Binge Eating Disorders May Be a Game Changer for Treatment

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Binge eating disorders can be debilitating. | Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

Approximately 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S., according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). Eating disorders are so serious one person dies every 62 minutes as a result.

Among the most common eating disorders is binge eating, followed by bulimia, ANAD reports. Half of those who suffer from a binge eating disorder are predisposed to the disorder due to genetics. More than half of those with a binge eating disorder and bulimia also deal with anxiety and other symptoms like alcohol abuse. While traditional treatment for binge eating disorder and bulimia is through psychotherapy and medication, one groundbreaking study may find a more effective approach.

So what are the symptoms of a binge eating disorder and bulimia? And what are researchers hoping to accomplish through a new study?

What are the symptoms of a binge eating disorder?

While many people who suffer from a binge eating disorder are overweight, some people are a normal weight. Some symptoms include eating an unusually large amount of food over a few hours, eating when you are not hungry, frequently eating alone, and feeling depressed or ashamed, according to the Mayo Clinic. You may also eat in secret and quickly during binge episodes.

What is the difference between binge eating and bulimia?

Both a binge eating disorder and bulimia may include eating a tremendous amount of food over a limited period of time. However, binge eating disorders differ from bulimia, the Mayo Clinic reports. Those with bulimia purge after a binge by vomiting, using laxatives or excessive exercise. Whereas binge eaters simply try to resume a normal diet.

Those with bulimia live in fear of weight gain, are obsessed with body image, and feel out of control while binging, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How is a binge eating disorder diagnosed and treated?

Physicians may use blood and urine tests, along with a physical exam and even a sleep study to make a diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Treatment goals are to reduce binges and replace them with healthy eating habits. Physicians may do this through psychotherapy which includes cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy or dialectical behavior therapy. Plus doctors may include an FDA approved medication like an antidepressant or an anticonvulsant.

A new study takes a new approach

Researchers at the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders are embarking upon an exciting new study to examine both binge eating disorders and bulimia from a multi-dimensional level. This is the first study to explore how the human genome and microbiome interact in eating disorders

Using an Apple Watch and the collection of genetic material, researchers hope to have a better understanding of binge and/or purge patterns. “There has never been a large-scale genetic study with modern techniques,” Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D. and lead study researcher explains to The Cheat Sheet. The disorders have been studied, “but not with this amount of granular information.”

What do researchers hope to accomplish?

Study participants will register for the study by downloading the Recovery Record app onto their iPhone and installing the Apple Watch app. The app will collect information about eating, activity, and mood. “Participants will log their feelings, behaviors, and urges on the Apple Watch,” Bulik says. While at the same time passive data is collected such as steps during the day and heart rate, for example. Researchers will track 1000 people with bulimia or binge-eating disorder for 30 days.

“The goals of the Apple Watch/Recovery Record part of the study is to identify patterns that will allow us to predict in advance when someone is at high risk for engaging in an eating disordered behavior, like binge eating or purging,” Bulik adds. “Once we identify those patterns, we will develop an intervention that will alert the person BEFORE the behavior occurs [ known as a just-in-time intervention].

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