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Binge Eating Disorder

Intrepid Mental Wellness, PLLC

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners located in Denver, CO

Our psychiatric nurse practitioners at Intrepid Mental Wellness have advanced psychiatric training and offer compassionate and effective care for treating binge eating disorder (BED). Not only do we offer in-office visits at our Denver, Colorado practice, we also provide telemedicine sessions, so you can communicate with your provider from home, school, or work. Call to book your initial BED evaluation.

Binge Eating Disorder Q & A

Have you ever found yourself halfway through a bag of chips without even realizing it? Binge eating is a complex behavior rooted in our biology, psychology, and the society we live in. It's not just about willpower; various factors contribute to this eating pattern. Understanding these can help us address binge eating more effectively.


What exactly is binge eating disorder (BED)?


Binge eating disorder is when you regularly eat a lot of food in a short period, feeling out of control and unable to stop. Unlike other eating disorders, you don't typically "purge" after bingeing. It's a serious health issue, but with the right support, it can be managed and overcome.


How do I know if I have a binge eating disorder?


If you find yourself eating large amounts of food in a go, feeling a loss of control during these episodes, and experiencing guilt or shame afterward, you might have BED. It's more than just overeating on occasion; it's a consistent pattern that affects your physical and emotional wellbeing.


Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder


  • Uncontrollable Eating: Individuals with Binge Eating Disorder often consume large amounts of food rapidly, even when not feeling physically hungry.
  • Feelings of Guilt: Those with this disorder may experience feelings of guilt, shame, or distress after a binge-eating episode.
  • Eating Alone: Binge eaters may prefer to eat alone due to embarrassment about the quantity of food being consumed.
  • Hoarding Food: Some individuals may stockpile or hide food to eat later during binge episodes.
  • Eating Until Uncomfortably Full: Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortably full is a common symptom.
  • Lack of Control: A sense of lack of control during binge episodes is a hallmark symptom.


Is binge eating disorder really that common?


Yes, it's actually the most common eating disorder in the United States, cutting across all ages, genders, and backgrounds. It's a leading disruptor of quality of life, often shadowed by obesity, anxiety, depression, and a deep-seated dissatisfaction with one's body image. Understanding its prevalence is key to breaking the stigma and encouraging more to seek the help they need.



What causes binge eating disorder?


There's no single cause. It's often a mix of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. These are some contributing factors: 


  • The Role of Sugar and Dopamine in Binge Eating: Have you ever wondered why, after devouring something super sweet, you're craving even more sugary goodness shortly after? It's all about the sugar and dopamine connection. When we eat sugary foods, our brains get a hit of dopamine, the feel-good hormone. This spike feels great, but the crash that follows? Not so much. We end up craving more sugar to get that high again, leading to a vicious cycle of binge eating.


  • Insulin Spikes and Appetite Regulation: When we consume a lot of sugar or food that quickly converts to sugar, like bread or pasta, our bodies respond by releasing insulin to manage the glucose in our blood. This insulin surge can negatively impact our hunger hormones — leptin and ghrelin. Leptin, which usually tells us we're full, decreases, and ghrelin, stimulating appetite, increases. Suddenly, our body's natural appetite regulation is out of whack, making us think we're hungry even when we're not.


  • Addictive Additives in Foods: It's not just sugar. Processed foods packed with additives like MSG can also be incredibly addictive. These additives enhance flavors, making our brains want more and more. It's like a flavor explosion in your mouth that you can't get enough of. The catch? It can lead to overeating, contributing to the binge cycle.


  • High Fructose Corn Syrup: High fructose corn syrup is like the ninja of the food world - silent but deadly. This sweet invader does a number on your body's hunger hormones, like ghrelin and leptin, throwing them off balance. The result? Your brain gets mixed signals on when it's time to stop eating, potentially leading you down the path of binge eating. It's the ultimate betrayal by something that started off tasting so good.


  • Artificial Sweeteners: Ever noticed how after guzzling down a diet soda, you're raiding the pantry an hour later? That's no coincidence. Artificial sweeteners, despite their zero-calorie allure, can mess with your brain's wiring. They're like that friend who promises to show up but never does, tricking your brain into expecting energy (calories) that never arrives. This can lead to increased cravings and, you guessed it, binge eating. It's like your taste buds and brain are in a constant tug-of-war, with your willpower caught in the middle.  


  • Influence of Nutritional Deficiencies on Binge Eating: Ever noticed how, when you're trying to eat healthily, your body sometimes craves the exact opposite? That's often because of nutritional deficiencies. For example, not getting enough protein can lead to unstable blood sugar levels. This instability can make you crave high-carb, sugary foods, setting the stage for a binge-eating episode.


  • Psychological Factors and Binge Eating: It's not just what's on your plate that matters; it's also what's in your mind. Untreated mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar disorder can significantly influence eating behaviors.


    • Depression and Anxiety: Feeling blue or anxious can profoundly affect our appetite. For some, it leads to undereating. For others, it's the opposite. Binge eating can serve as a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotions, offering a temporary escape from reality. 
    • ADHD and Bipolar Disorder: Impulsivity is a common thread in ADHD and bipolar disorder, and it can extend to eating habits. Without even realizing it, individuals might find themselves impulsively reaching for food as a way to self-soothe or manage their symptoms, further fueling the cycle of binge eating.


Can binge eating disorder be treated?


Absolutely. Treatment usually involves therapy to address the underlying emotional triggers, improve your relationship with food, and develop healthier eating patterns. In some cases, medication might also be helpful. Recovery is a journey, but it's entirely possible.


The Role of Medications in Managing Binge Eating Disorder


  • Impulse Control and Medications:  Medications play a crucial role in assisting individuals struggling with binge eating disorder by aiding in improving impulse control, reducing the frequency of binge episodes, and promoting healthier eating habits. These medications work by targeting specific neurotransmitters in the brain that are involved in regulating impulses and emotions. By modulating these brain chemicals, medications can help individuals regain control over their eating behaviors. This can lead to a decrease in the urge to binge and a greater ability to make conscious, healthier food choices.


  • Addressing the Reward Pathway:  One key aspect of how medications can help manage binge eating disorder is by targeting the brain's reward pathway. This pathway is responsible for the pleasurable feelings associated with eating, which can become heightened in individuals with binge eating disorder. By targeting this pathway, medications can diminish the pleasure response associated with binge eating, making it less rewarding and satisfying. This can aid in breaking the cycle of compulsive overeating by reducing the reinforcing effects of food and helping individuals gain control over their eating habits.


What medications are used for BED?


  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs):  Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of medications that work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. This neurotransmitter plays a crucial role in regulating mood, emotions, and appetite. For individuals with binge eating disorder, SSRIs may help by stabilizing serotonin levels, which can contribute to reducing binge episodes and improving overall emotional wellbeing.


  • Stimulants Including FDA Approved Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine) for BED:  Stimulants are another type of medication that can be used to treat binge eating disorders. These medications work by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, leading to appetite suppression and enhanced focus. By reducing the urge to overeat and improving cognitive function, stimulants can be an effective option for managing binge eating behaviors.


  • Topiramate:  Topiramate is a medication that is known for its anticonvulsant properties but has also been found to be beneficial in reducing binge eating episodes. It works by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain, such as GABA and glutamate, which are involved in regulating appetite and reward pathways. By altering brain activity, topiramate can help individuals with binge eating disorder experience fewer episodes of uncontrollable eating.


  • GLP-1 Receptor Agonists:  Here's where it gets interesting. GLP-1 receptor agonists, originally used to treat diabetes, have entered the chat for BED treatment.  These meds work by mimicking a hormone that tells your bra