Shining a light on binge eating: MUN study focuses on 'very common' disorder

A team from Memorial University is looking for people to participate in a self-help binge eating disorder (BED) treatment study — a condition which they believe affects significantly more people in Newfoundland and Labrador than either anorexia or bulimia.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by eating abnormally large amounts of food, and then feeling guilty, ashamed and out of control. The disorder is common, but often under-diagnosed, according to Dr. Jacqueline Carter-Major, a clinical psychologist and associate professor with Memorial's department of psychology. 

Carter-Major and her research team believe between 7,000 and 14,000 people in the province are suffering from the disorder, but many may not recognize that they have it. 

"Research in other areas has shown that the prevalence of binge eating is correlated with the prevalence of [being] overweight and obesity," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"As you know, Newfoundland has the highest rate of obesity in Canada." 

Like any other mental health disorder, the causes of BED are complex and can involve a variety of biological, genetic, psychological and environmental factors.

Carter-Major said BED is characterized by: 

- Eating, in a discrete period of time (for example, within any two-hour period), an amount of food that most people would agree is abnormally large given the circumstances;

- A sense of loss of control over eating during the episode (for example, 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 rapidly 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 afterwards;

- The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for three months.

BED is significantly more common that bulimia or anorexia in this province, but there are no specialized public health treatments available, Carter-Major said. 

"The prevalence of anorexia among, usually young adults and adolescents, is maybe two per cent, the prevalence of bulimia maybe three per cent, whereas binge eating disorder, we're looking at seven per cent of people who are in the overweight or obese range," she said.

"It's more common, and yet there are no services available for this really serious mental health problem."

Carter-Major and her team at Memorial University are looking for participants for a study that will evaluate self-help programs for binge eating disorder that have "shown to be helpful in other parts of the world."

Candidates must be aged 19 or older, and will participate in the program for three months, with a follow-up. People from all over Newfoundland and Labrador are eligible to take part if they think they have binge eating disorder, Carter-Major said. 

"Because it is a self-help program, people do not have to travel to the university for appointments," she said.

Candidates will have to complete a confidential screening questionnaire, and if deemed eligible, will be provided with more information.

You can find out more about the study, which is being funded by the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research, by sending the team an email.