Those with binge-eating disorder cannot control their food intake. Although there is no official data in Singapore, it is estimated that binge-eating disorder is three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.
Before you dismiss your friends as being greedy, you should find out if there is an underlying reason they are eating so much, to the extent of feeling queasy or even unwell.
Dr Victor Kwok, head of the department of psychiatry at Sengkang Health, recalled that in secondary school, he had an obese classmate who could not stop eating when they were at a buffet.
Despite being advised to stop, the classmate kept on eating and eventually felt very uncomfortable because he had eaten too much.
Dr Kwok said: “This was puzzling to me then.”
His classmate may have been suffering from binge-eating disorder.
Although there is no official data in Singapore, it is estimated that the disorder is three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.
People with the disorder have episodes of binge-eating, where they would gobble large quantities of food in a short span of time.
Some characteristics of the disorder include:
- Uncontrollable intake of food.
- Eating more rapidly than usual.
- Eating alone due to embarrassment.
- Eating until one feels uncomfortably full.
This differs from overeating, which may happen at all-you-can eat buffets, said Dr Kwok. At such buffets, most people try to eat more and even skip an earlier meal in order to eat their money’s worth.
What sets overeating apart from binge-eating disorder is that there is no loss of control over the amount of food eaten.
At buffets, we pick and choose the items we want to eat, even if we eat to the point of slight discomfort.
At the end of the day, we might even feel a sense of achievement.
But people with the disorder would feel disgusted and guilty after eating large amounts of food.
In fact, they would eat a lot even though they do not feel hungry.
These binge-eating episodes would result in weight gain, increasing the person’s risk of developing chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Dr Kwok said that 40 to 50 per cent of people with the disorder could be overweight.
He cited the case of an undergraduate who piled on the kilos after uncontrollably stuffing himself with fried chicken and burgers at night. At meal-times, he also ate more than usual and did not bother to exercise regularly.
As a result, his weight ballooned to more than 100kg and he was so embarrassed that he did not want to leave his house.
If he woke up late, he would skip classes as he was afraid the other students would stare at him when he walked into the classroom, said Dr Kwok. The boy’s parents thought he was just greedy and scolded him, telling him that he had lost his good looks. This lowered his self-esteem even more.
Dr Kwok said people with binge eating disorder may also be suffering from depression and anxiety disorder. This could be due to dissatisfaction with their body or anxiety that people would comment about their weight.
Binge-eating and anxiety disorders share common factors like family discord or stress.
For those who are worried that a family member may have binge eating disorder, Dr Kwok suggested approaching him in a private setting without being judgmental.
“You can say you are concerned about his loss of control during meals and that it could be a symptom of a medical problem that can be treated,” Dr Kwok said, adding that such people may be reluctant to talk about their bingeing episodes due to shame or disgust.
People with the disorder can seek help from these healthcare professionals:
- Psychiatrists with training in eating disorders.
- Psychologists,whocan offer cognitive behavioural therapy to help patients cope with triggers.
- Dietitians, who can give advice ona balanced food intake.
- Physiotherapists, who can suggest exercises for patients to maintain a healthy weight.