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YOUR HEALTH: Binge eating and your natural rhythms

Scientists want to know if shifting the body's Circadian rhythm can help people struggling with the most common eating disorder

CINCINNATI — Food fuels our body and gives us energy.

But for thousands of Americans eating is an unhealthy obsession.

"Binge eating disorder is the most prevalent eating disorder, and unfortunately there's still very limited options or targeted options," said Dr. Francisco Romo-Nava, a psychiatrist at the University of Cincinnati's Lindner Center of Hope.

An estimated 2.8 million Americans struggle with binge eating disorder. 

People with the disorder often eat large amounts of food in a short period and feel guilty and unable to stop. 

KNOW SOMEONE WITH BINGE EATING ISSUES?  Click here to find help and guidance.

Now, researchers want to know more about the role of the body's sleep-wake cycles, known as the Circadian clock.

Dr. Romo-Nava and his colleagues are working to learn how an individual's body clock plays a part.

"Among the population, it's estimated that between 10% and 15% of the population will be morning type, clearly morning types," he said.

"Then most of the population will be intermediate types between 70%- 75%.  And only about five percent of the population is a true evening type."

Dr. Romo-Nava says a master Circadian clock in the brain feeds information to cells in the body triggering needs and responses, like getting tired and hungry. 

He says past research suggests "night owls" might be more susceptible to binge eating behavior.

"Binge eating tends to occur in the second part of the day into the evening and night," he said.

The researchers want to know if re-adjusting the Circadian rhythms of people with binge eating disorder could be an effective part of treatment.

On-going study of bingeing disorders

A study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health led by researcher Cynthia Bulik of the University of North Carolina is looking to predict binge and purge episodes and intervene in real-time before they occur and would support the development and scalability of treatments for binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa. 

The data will be collected over 30 days from more than 1,000 individuals with binge-eating disorder or bulimia nervosa. 

The analysis team, led by a University of Utah researcher, will then model the data to see if they can identify stable, low-risk, and high-risk patterns that signal impending binge or purge episodes.

How can it be detected?

The exact cause of binge eating disorder isn't known, but it's likely due to a combination of things, including genetics, family eating habits, emotions, and eating behavior, like skipping meals. 

Some people use food as a way to soothe themselves or to cope with difficult feelings. 

People with binge eating disorder are more likely to have other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and ADHD. 

Someone who's binge eating might eat a lot of food quickly, hide food containers or wrappers in their room, have big changes in their weight (up or down), skip meals, eat at unusual times, and eat alone. 

People who binge might have feelings that are common in many eating disorders, such as depression, anxiety, guilt, or shame. 

They may avoid school, work, or socializing with friends because they're ashamed of their binge eating problem or changes in their body shape and weight. 

When kids or teen binge eat, parents may first suspect a problem when large amounts of food go missing from the pantry or refrigerator.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.