Obesity is incredibly common in people with mental illness. Around 80% of people with mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, suffer from being overweight or obese. This is compared to the general population at 70%. There are a few reasons why this might be the case, including side effects from medication. One factor that seems to play into obesity and bipolar disorder is that binge eating disorder is more common with bipolar disorder than the general population.
In binge eating disorder, people regularly eat large quantities of food in a short time. Not only does this behavior cause physical pain, but it also causes psychological distress. It comes with a feeling of being out of control often accompanied by guilt.
Binge eating disorder is a type of eating disorder, like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, not simply a lack of willpower. The psychological handbook Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes the symptoms this way:
- Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
- Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
- A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).
- The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal.
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
- Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
- Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
- The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.
- The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior as in bulimia nen/osa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.
A new study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders has found that binge eating disorder is more common in obese patients that also have bipolar disorder. The researchers, led by Cristina Segura-Garcia of the University Magna Graecia of Catanzaro in Catanzaro, Italy, studied 119 people with obesity to determine the rate of combined illnesses.
Segura-Garcia found that only 29% of the people in the study were diagnosable with obesity alone. A total 62% of obese patients in the study had binge eating disorder. Eight percent had bipolar disorder, which is higher than the average 2% of the population, but the most striking finding is that 41% of the participants shared binge eating disorder and bipolar disorder.
Shared binge eating disorder and bipolar disorder was also more common among people with bipolar II disorder. This follows the logic of previous research showing that people with bipolar II are more likely to suffer from atypical depression, in which the person is likely to eat more and gain weight rather than with typical depression when patients tend to eat less and lose weight.
Knowing that binge eating disorder is closely tied with bipolar disorder is important because binge eating behavior may be able to help identify bipolar disorder early. Most people wait an average of 10 years before receiving a correct diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The earlier a patient is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the better off their lives will be not just in the short-term, but over a lifetime.
With evidence like that presented by Segura-Garcia, primary care physicians and psychiatrists can be on the lookout for symptoms of bipolar disorder in patients with binge eating disorder and possibly give patients a chance at early diagnosis.
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