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Obesity is a problem facing children and adults. Binge eating disorder is a subset of eating disorders, but there are many misbeliefs about the disorder. Is binge eating an addiction problem, a psychiatric disorder, a behavioral disorder (a dysfunctional eating pattern), faulty learning, a lack of will power, genetics, or does overeating just come from being bored? What is it?

Binge eating is classified as a psychiatric disorder and listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V. Symptoms associated with binge eating include; recurrent episodes of eating an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a discrete period of time while having a sense of lack of control. It is marked by eating rapidly, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, and eating large amounts of food when not hungry. Moreover, binge eaters eat alone because they are embarrassed by their behavior. They feel disgusted with their overeating, depressed, guilty, anxious and they can experience marked distress.

Guilt and shame is prevalent after overeating and self-esteem plummets. Bingeing may occur several times a week, often at night and away from other people's prying eyes. Meals will be skipped to compensate for overeating. These overeaters may isolate themselves believing others see them as weak. However, it may be the obesity that leads a person to feel depressed or anxious. One study found that 78 percent of binge eaters also struggle with depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. More women than men have eating disorders.

Obesity is associated with numerous physical ailments. Binge eating can cause wild variations in blood sugar levels and that contributes to the development of diabetes. Hypertension, heart disease, back pain, knee pain, digestive problems and a myriad of other conditions, including cancer, are related to obesity.

Why then do obese people continue to overeat in spite of all the contraindications and illnesses that are inherent in obesity?

Those who believe binge-eating is an addiction point to brain imaging studies that show significant overlap between the brain circuits activated by a drug addict's craving and those of a binge eater pondering whether or not to binge eat. Researchers also found that the brains of overeaters and those with substance addictions share a common shortage of receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine, a key chemical in the activation of reward-seeking brain circuits. Dopamine is also involved in numerous behaviors that involve motivation, learning and emotions, not just food cravings. Others question the addiction model. But, when a binge-eater is asked, they will say it feels like an addiction.

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Yes, genes play a role because eating disorders run in families. Culture has influence in eating behavior. Moreover, our society is focused on fast food diets packed with carbohydrates, fats and sugar. These diets foster weight gain. Faulty learning has its role too, especially in early childhood when you were told to eat everything on your plate.

Eating regularly, in moderation, and exercising can help correct obesity. Diets similar to our great-grandparents are healthy when balanced with lean meat and vegetables. Education can change behavior, especially with the help of a clinical dietician. Boredom can be corrected by engaging in meaningful behaviors like walking or going to the gym. Overeating has more to do with emotional distress than being weak. Taking good care of your mental health has many positive effects on physical health. Quick weight loss is not the answer to obesity. Studies have demonstrated that there are indeed individuals who are successful at long term weight loss and maintenance by continued low caloric diets and physical exercise.

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