What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating is a problem for millions of people. Binge eating can lead to weight gain and many people who binge eat are overweight.  The “causes” of binge eating are not very well understood but research has provided a few important clues.

You may be prone to binge eat if:

  • you are genetically predisposed,
  • eating sweet food makes your mood better,
  • you have a hard time resisting sweet cravings,
  • you do not eat regularly (especially if you skip breakfast), or
  • you are feeling depressed or anxious.

People who binge eat say it helps their mood in the short-term but makes them feel worse about themselves in the long run.  They get caught in a vicious cycle that is hard to escape.

Effective treatment helps people stop binge eating and lose extra weight if they have it. Medications (typically SSRIs), psychotherapy, and behavioral weight loss treatment can be helpful but not everyone responds the same. Medications often produce unwanted side effects that force people to stop taking them. A recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that 20 weeks of psychotherapy helped some people stop binge eating for up to 2 years. However, not everyone who struggles with binge eating has the opportunity to receive psychotherapy.  Therefore, new ideas for treating binge eating are needed.

At UNC we are conducting the BEACh (Binge Eating And Chromium) study. This study is testing if chromium picolinate helps reduce binge eating and improve mood in overweight people with binge eating disorder. When taken properly, chromium picolinate usually has few side effects.  It also has been shown to improve mood and reduce overeating in patients with atypical depression. If chromium has a positive effect on binge eating, the next step will be to compare it to psychotherapy and other medications.

Stay tuned for exciting updates on this study later this year.