Chicago psychological center serves as model for treatment of binge eating

As experts discuss major changes in binge eating, a Chicago psychological center serves as a model for treatment of the most common eating disorder. Its leading-edge program takes a multidisciplinary approach that includes treating underlying psychological issues, behavior modification and even specially prepared meals from Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants.

"We try to provide an environment that is safe and protective and accepting of who you are at any size or shape," says Jenny H. Conviser, Psy.D., of Insight Psychological Centers and an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. "We try to avoid assumptions and assess what we need to treat: is this a food addiction, a metabolic disorder, or maybe simply needing to learn more about strategies for healthy eating?"

Binge eating disorder affects about 5-6% of the adult population. Binge eaters consume a large amount of food in a small period of time until they are painfully full. They may eat rapidly – often foods with a high sugar or carbohydrate content -- and feel out of control. Many have a history of being overweight and previously restrictive eating or dieting history before they develop binge eating disorder.

At the recent conference of the Binge Eating Disorder Association in Philadelphia (BEDA), the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders collaborated with BEDA in an effort to increase recognition of binge eating disorder as part of the spectrum of eating disorders affecting 24 million people. Experts discussed recent research and the latest evidence-based treatments for people with binge eating disorder.

Participants also discussed the implications of binge eating disorder being listed as a psychiatric disorder in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, due for release in 2013. Experts hope this official change will increase access to care and social acceptance for those who suffer from binge eating. An official designation could pave the way for better insurance coverage of the disease.

"The approval of binge eating disorder as a psychiatric disorder will hopefully improve the ability of people to get help," says Dr. Conviser who was a featured speaker at the recent BEDA conference. "More people are suffering with eating disorders and we will see increased rates of binge eating disorder. It's extremely important to get treatment early and a sufficient amount of treatment. We're working closely with political groups and insurance companies to do everything we can to advocate for our people."

Few facilities in the country specialize in binge eating disorder the way Insight Psychological Centers does. Insight has four outpatient locations in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs and a transitional living residence in downtown Chicago. Patients receive intensive treatment up to 8 hours a day for as long as necessary. Staff includes psychiatrists, physicians, psychologists, registered dietitians, certified drug and alcohol counselors and other experts in the treatment of eating disorders.

Through an arrangement with Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants, chefs from foodlife prepare meals appropriate for each patient under the supervision of Insight's registered dietitians. The center's nutritionists and psychologists sit with patients in a dining room-like setting and teach them how to eat normally -- through portion control, behavior modification and treatment of underlying psychological issues. "People can practice eating in a healthy way in a beautiful, supportive environment," says Dr. Conviser.

"Overeating is not the same thing as binge eating," she continues. "People who overeat at Thanksgiving may be uncomfortable or regret the extra serving of pie but in contrast binge eaters may have depression or anxiety or another mood disorder. Many sufferers don't even realize they have a significant psychiatric disorder that is, in the right hands, very treatable."

Binge eating is more common than the better-known anorexia nervosa (marked by low body weight and highly restrictive eating) or bulimia nervosa (in which people eat and purge). The disorder occurs more often in women but is becoming more common in men. To meet the new criteria for binge eating, a person must have at least one episode of binge eating per week for longer than three months. More than a quarter of people with binge eating disorder are at risk for suicide and 15% have attempted suicide.

"Unfortunately, our culture assigns value and power to thinness," says Dr. Conviser. "The earlier someone is exposed to a diet culture in which thin is the ideal, the greater the likelihood of their being overweight as an adult or developing an eating disorder." Many factors, she says, including sedentary lifestyle; reliance on low-cost, high carb foods; greater obesity; and stress combine with a diet mentality to increase the likelihood of any eating disorder.

SOURCE Insight Psychological Centers

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