Binging and the Brain
Eating disorders plague millions of Americans, the result of complicated interactions between psychological, physiological, and cultural factors that can together throw a person's relationship with food far off balance. The roots of afflictions such as binge eating disorder (BED) are unclear, but new research finds a connection between binge eating and cognitive problems related to self-awareness and attention. This finding offers a possible new therapeutic option for those struggling with disordered eating.
Swiss researchers studied the cognitive abilities of three groups: obese individuals with BED, obese individuals without BED, and a control group of people of normal weight. The people with BED had the most severe problems with their brain's attention and inhibition mechanisms, then the non-disordered obese, then the normal weight individuals. Other studies have found a correlation between binge eating and a lack of self-awareness, and connections between ethnic identity (or the lack thereof) and binging behaviors.
Through binging on food, those with BED can focus their attention and awareness entirely upon eating, away from things that might trouble their mind. But integrating cognitive therapies into the healing process could strengthen those mental functions that then affect how the person eats when under stress. By making eating more mindful, therapies to build self-awareness and attention would likely be successful where other therapies have failed.