Binge eating is consumption of an unusually large amount of food coupled with a feeling of loss of control over eating. Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating without inappropriate compensatory behaviors (eg, self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other agents, excessive exercise).1 It is the most common eating disorder in the United States, with a lifetime prevalence of approximately 3.5% in women and 2% in men.2 The diagnosis falls within the DSM-IV-TR category of eating disorders not otherwise specified,1 but clinicians often view it as a distinct clinical phenomenon. In DSM-IV-TR, an individual would meet criteria for BED if he or she engages in regular binge eating behavior in the absence of recurrent compensatory behaviors ≥2 days per week over 6 months.1 Proposed changes for DSM-5 recognize a distinct BED diagnosis, reduce the frequency criterion to once per week and the duration criterion to the past 3 months, and shift the focus from binge days to binge episodes (Table 1).3
Proposed DSM-5 criteria for binge eating disorder
BED can occur in individuals of all body mass indices (BMI), but is common among individuals who are overweight or obese as well as those with depression or type 2 diabetes; BED can complicate treatment of these conditions.2,4,5 Primary treatment goals are:
- abstinence from binge eating
- improved psychological functioning
- appropriate weight regulation in overweight patients.
We report on 3 approaches to BED treatment: medication only, behavioral intervention only, and medication plus behavioral intervention. This article provides insights about emerging changes in diagnostic criteria for BED as well as evidence-informed treatment options and recommendations.
The evidence base
We conducted a review of 23 BED studies: 7 medication only, 5 medication plus behavioral, and 11 behavioral only. We focused on studies conducted since September 2005 that included binge frequency, weight, and depression as primary outcomes (see Berkman et al6 for a review of BED treatment studies before 2005). The studies included 2,527 participants (2,216 women and 311 men). Although the sex distribution of BED in the general population tends to slightly favor women,2 the proportion of women presenting for treatment generally is considerably higher than that of men. In studies that reported on race and/or ethnicity, 1,639 participants were identified as white, 191 as African American, 25 as Hispanic, 2 as Asian, 1 as Native American, and 25 as “other.” Ages ranged from 18 to 77.
Several medications are effective
In placebo-controlled studies, a high-dose selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (escitalopram7), 2 anticonvulsants (zonisamide8 and topiramate9), a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (atomoxetine10), and an appetite suppressant (sibutramine11) were associated with significant decreases in binge eating frequency, weight, and BMI in overweight/obese patients diagnosed with BED (Table 2). In an open-label trial, memantine—a N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist often used to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease—was associated with a significant reduction in binge eating but no change in weight.12 Lamotrigine was not significantly different from placebo in reducing binge eating or weight, but showed promise in reducing metabolic parameters such as glucose and triglyceride levels commonly associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes.13 Because BED often is comorbid with obesity and type 2 diabetes, lamotrigine augmentation when treating obese individuals with BED warrants further investigation. As with any pharmacologic agent, carefully consider potential side effects and interactions with other drugs before prescribing medications for BED. Informing patients of potential side effects is crucial for patient safety and accuracy of the data collected in well-controlled treatment studies.
Pharmacotherapy for binge eating disorder
|Guerdjikova et al, 20087||Escitalopram, 10 to 30 mg/d, vs placebo for 12 weeks||Escitalopram was significantly better than placebo in reducing weight, BMI, and illness severity|
|McElroy et al, 20068||Zonisamide, 100 to 600 mg/d, vs placebo for 16 weeks||Zonisamide was significantly better than placebo in reducing BE, weight, BMI, and various aspects of unhealthy eating behavior|
|McElroy et al, 20079||Topiramate, 25 to 400 mg/d, vs placebo for 16 weeks||Topiramate was significantly better than placebo in reducing BE, weight, BMI, and related psychological features of BE|
|McElroy et al, 200710||Atomoxetine, 40 to 120 mg/d, vs placebo for 10 weeks||Atomoxetine was significantly better than placebo in reducing BE, weight, BMI, and obsessive-compulsive features of BE, and in achieving remission|
|Wilfley et al, 200811||Sibutramine, 15 mg/d, vs placebo for 24 weeks||Sibutramine was significantly better than placebo in reducing BE, weight, BMI, and related psychological features of BE|
|Brennan et al, 200812||Open-label memantine, 5 to 20 mg/d, for 12 weeks||Memantine was associated with decreased binge frequency and related psychological features of BE|
|Guerdjikova et al, 200913||Lamotrigine, 50 to 400 mg/d, vs placebo for 16 weeks||Lamotrigine was not significantly different from placebo|
|BE: binge eating; BMI: body mass index|