To better understand the complicated relationship between obesity and binge eating disorder and other eating disorders, a group of researchers from Sydney, Australia reviewed the topic and published recommendations in the journal Nutrients.
In the article, “Obesity with Comorbid Eating Disorders: Associated Health Risks and Treatment Approaches” they conclude, “to improve the healthcare provided to these individuals, there is a need for greater exchange of experiences and specialized knowledge between healthcare professionals working in the obesity field with those working in the field of eating disorders, and vice-versa.” 
The researchers cited one study in the United States which found that 87% of individuals with binge eating disorder, and 33% of individuals with bulimia nervosa, had also had obesity at some point in their lives.
They also note that the likelihood of developing an eating disorder increases when an individual experiences size discrimination. The authors write, “discrimination against individuals with higher body mass index (BMI) can be particularly problematic because it can induce strong dissatisfaction with one’s body weight and/or shape.”
Additionally, when an individual experiences both obesity and an eating disorder, there is an increased chance of having a co-occurring mood or anxiety disorder, as evidenced by these findings:
- A study with 152 treatment-seeking individuals with obesity found that those with binge eating disorder had higher BMIs, more severe levels of depression and obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and stronger feelings of inadequacy and inferiority than those without binge eating disorder
- Bariatric surgery candidates with comorbid binge eating disorder had significantly more mood and anxiety disorders than bariatric surgery candidates without binge eating disorder (27% versus 5% for mood disorders, and 27% versus 8% for anxiety disorders, respectively)
- 40% of bariatric surgery candidates with comorbid binge eating disorder had a mood or anxiety disorder, with some participants having both a mood and an anxiety disorder
Unfortunately, those who treat eating disorders, and those who help patients wanting to lose weight are not always working from the same set of assumptions. An individual with obesity may seek out a physician in hopes of dieting recommendations or bariatric surgery, yet find this professional has little to no knowledge of eating disorder behaviors.
At the same time, eating disorder professionals are hesitant to provide any weight loss recommendations, which may leave the individual feeling hopeless. The authors find this impasse unacceptable. They conclude:
“While these healthcare professionals may sometimes disagree on the potential benefits and harms of recommending weight loss diets to their clients, healthcare professionals working in either of these fields of obesity or eating disorders can acknowledge the common goal of promoting healthy eating behaviors, healthy relationships of their clients with their bodies, and positive personal health goals of weight loss.
“We contend that it is vital to develop and test innovative medical, psychological, and nutritional treatment options that simultaneously address obesity as well as comorbid eating disorders. Such integrated treatments can potentially induce greater improvements in health—and in more people—than treatments targeting only one or the other condition.”
REFERENCES Luz, F. D., Hay, P., Touyz, S., & Sainsbury, A. (2018). Obesity with Comorbid Eating Disorders: Associated Health Risks and Treatment Approaches. Nutrients, 10(7), 829. doi: 10.3390/nu10070829
About the Author:
Travis Stewart, LPC has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005. His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future. Travis has experience with a wide variety of issues which might lead people to seek out professional counseling help.
This includes a special interest in helping those with compulsive and addictive behaviors such as internet and screen addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Specifically, he has worked with eating disorders since 2003 and has learned from many of the field’s leading experts. He has worked with hundreds of individuals facing life-threatening eating disorders in all levels of treatment. His website is wtravisstewart.com
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published February 5, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on February 5, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC