Binge eating a struggle for a third of UAE undergrads

ABU DHABI // Up to a third of university undergraduates struggle with binge eating, according to what is believed to be the first study of its kind for the UAE. The study by Sabrina Schulte, an assistant professor in psychology at the American University of Sharjah, said those who admitted to binge eating suffered from […]

ABU DHABI // Up to a third of university undergraduates struggle with binge eating, according to what is believed to be the first study of its kind for the UAE.

The study by Sabrina Schulte, an assistant professor in psychology at the American University of Sharjah, said those who admitted to binge eating suffered from “frequent uncontrollable urges to eat unusually large amounts of foods followed by negative feelings of shame and guilt”.

Of these, one in three also rated at “severe” on the Binge Eating Scale, which is based on 16 questions to determine the extent of their problem.

Severe binge eaters admitted to issues such as feeling shame and disgust about their weight, fluctuating between starving themselves and overeating, and eating in secret.

The study involved 236 undergraduates in the UAE with an average age of 19 years. The majority of the respondents, 64.8 per cent, were women.

The students participated in a series of psychological assessments at the beginning, middle and end of the term.

The tests measured their eating habits, stress levels, extent to which emotions triggered eating, levels of depression, obsessive compulsiveness and feelings of shame and guilt towards their body and weight.

The findings did not surprise Dr Vicki Mobley at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, who specialises in eating disorders.

The clinical psychologist said binge eaters often felt triggered to overeat when they were trying to deal with “difficult emotions”.

“If you’re feeling stressed or upset, or you know that while you’re binging, you don’t have to think about that, it becomes a way of coping,” Dr Mobley said. “It helps comfort you in that way. But then afterwards, of course, usually what happens is you feel disgusted and awful at what you’ve done, so it actually leads you back to having difficult emotions again.”

In the short term, however, “while you’re binging, it can help to sort of escape or avoid dealing with what you’re feeling”.

Archana Baju, a clinical dietician at Burjeel Hospital, said there were common signs to look for in identifying binge-eating behaviour.

“Parents should not neglect changes or symptoms, such as sudden weight gain, or change in regular eating pattern.”

Other symptoms can include eating in isolation owing to feelings of guilt, being depressed, feeling distressed towards oneself, eating irregularly large amounts and showing lack of control in food intake.

Dr Mobley said if such behaviour continued at least once a week for a period of about three months, a person should seek professional guidance.

“It may not even be that often, but there’s a feeling of guilt and depression around it,” she said. “A part of therapy is to understand what function it’s serving and then to put in other strategies to alleviate boredom other than binging, or other ways of coping with stress and anxiety rather than binge eating.”

In her study, Dr Schulte said binge eating was linked to “major health risks including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, psychological disorders, reduced quality of life and high distress”.

She said such behaviour could reinforce negative emotions – such as boredom and loneliness.

“Body-related guilt” was the second-strongest predictor of binge eating among UAE youth.

“Participants who reported higher levels of guilt about their physical appearance were more likely to binge,” Dr Schulte said.

The study, Predictors of binge eating in male and female youths in the United Arab Emirates, was published in Appetite, a research journal specialising in the psychology of eating.

rpennington@thenational.ae

Source: uae news

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