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Binge eaters can gain control relatively cheaply, studies find

April 1, 2010 | 11:50 am

Lotsafries Binge eating frequently confounds sufferers and therapists alike -- but that doesn't have to be the case.

A self-help program using cognitive behavioral techniques (change your thinking, change your behavior) has shown promise in significantly reducing episodes of binge eating. In a new study, participants who went through a 12-week, eight-session program based on these principles were much more likely to gain control of their eating than those participants who simply received the various types of treatment they'd normally get in a managed-care setting.

The researchers reported that after 12 weeks, 28.3% of the treatment-as-usual group and 63.5% of the cognitive-behavioral-therapy group had managed to stop binging. After a year, those numbers were 44.6% and 64.2%, respectively.

The study was published Thursday in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, by researchers at Wesleyan, Rutgers and Stanford universities, and Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research.

A related and extremely relevant study, published in the same issue, found that the therapy was cost-effective and maybe, just maybe, should eventually be adopted on a wider basis.

Want a glimpse of the therapy? That's easy enough. It was based on the  book "Overcoming Binge Eating" by Dr. Christopher Fairburn. The book offers not just a basic primer on binge eating -- what it is, what causes it, who does it, the physical problems associated with it -- but a detailed self-help program. In short, the latter teaches bingers how to develop their own moderate eating pattern and how to stick with it.

Here's a recent package of stories from the L.A. Times exploring the psychiatric gray area of binge eating.

The main story, Is binge eating a psychiatric disorder?, begins:

"Rina Silverman's refrigerator is almost always empty. She keeps it that way to avert episodes of frantic food consumption, often at night after a full meal, in which she tastes nothing and feels nothing but can polish off a party-sized bag of chips or a container of ice cream, maybe a whole box of cereal. The food she's eating at these moments hardly matters.

In short order, the nothing that Silverman feels and tastes will give way to nauseating fullness, and a bitter backwash of guilt, shame and self-reproach.

The fullness, in time, passes. But the corrosive shame and self-reproach are always there.

Silverman, a 43-year-old executive assistant from Sherman Oaks, is one of the 145 million Americans who are overweight or obese. But the frenzies of consumption put her in a far smaller category of Americans, not all of whom are even overweight."

Related stories:

Trying to define binge eating disorder

Binge eating: Is it a form of addiction?

Holidays feed binge eaters' problems

If you see yourself in these stories... well, a quick perusal of the book couldn't hurt.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Some people, perhaps more than you think, would have trouble stopping with a serving or four.

Credit: Richard Derk / Los Angeles Times