BINGE eating is now the most common eating disorder in the country – yet resources to treat the illness are “woefully inadequate” in WA.
A WA expert says the disorder, which can have severe psychological and physical consequences, often goes undiagnosed until people reach their 30s and 40s.
University of WA School of Psychology associate professor Sue Byrne said often binge eaters are just considered “greedy”.
A Health Department report tabled in Parliament earlier this month estimates as many as 1850 women and 2000 men could be suffering from Binge Eating Disorder in WA.
This is based on a national prevalence rate of 2.3 per cent, which exceeds the prevalence of both anorexia nervosa (0.3 per cent) and bulimia nervosa (0.9 per cent).
“In WA we only have one public eating disorder service which is the Centre for Clinical Intervention,” she said.
“Up until now we haven’t treated Binge Eating Disorder at that service because we were already too overrun with other eating disorders.
“(BED) is now recognised as an actual eating disorder just like Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa, but at the moment, in the public sector there is no treatment for it.”
BED is characterised by frequent episodes of eating big amounts of food in a short period of time, but unlike Bulimia Nervosa, is not associated with purging.
Feeling out of control, ashamed and disgusted are common symptoms of the disorder, as is a preoccupation with food or body shape and secretive hiding of food or wrappers.
Associate Professor Byrne said BED could be “extremely distressing” for sufferers of the condition and often lead to obesity.
“Any eating disorder has serious psychological consequences as well as medical consequences, particularly anorexia and bulimia, but also Binge Eating Disorder in that it is associated with weight gain,” she said.
“We often see people with Binge Eating Disorder who don’t present until they are in their 30s or 40s, but when you talk to them they have actually been binge eating since they were quite young.
“They don’t think that it’s a disorder, they just think that they are greedy or people have told them that they’re lazy or greedy or they think they can’t control their food intake so it’s not always recognised.”
She said when available treatment for the condition was highly successful.
Australian Medical Association WA vice-president Michael Gannon agreed finding treatments for patients could be difficult.
“It’s certainly the case that it’s frustrating for GPs to gain access to these services,” Dr Gannon said.
“For example there is a clinic a Princess Margaret for Children and Adolescents with abnormal eating behaviours and the waiting times for access to these clinics are very poor.
“Equally its actually very difficult, even for those in our community (find it easier) to avail themselves of health services, find it hard to see private psychiatrists for things like Bulimia and Anorexia.
“Stories of people trying to get access to services are well known.”
A WA Health spokeswoman said in addition to the CCI the Government also provide an eating disorder treatment service for people under the age of 16.
“The Child and Adolescent Health Service (CAHS) Eating Disorders Program consists of a specialised multidisciplinary team and accepts referrals for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with eating disorders up to the age of 16,” she said.
“Binge Eating Disorder is one of several eating disorders treated by the CAHS Eating Disorders Program. In cases where a young person with an eating disorder is medically compromised, they will be admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital for medical stabilisation.”
This article appeared on ‘Perth Now’ on 21 December 2013.