Pregnancy a Possible Trigger for Binge Eating
> 9/10/2007 1:01:31 PM

Pregnant women traditionally get a free pass to consume as much food as they want, after all, they are "eating for two." This free pass went unexamined for so long because pregnancy comes with many natural and healthy changes in eating behavior, and because doctors observed that binge eating disorder often went into remission during pregnancy. A new study by Dr. Cynthia Bulik from UNC confirms that preexisting binge eating disorder (BED) does often go into remission, but makes the troubling discovery that many new cases of BED appear during pregnancy.

Dr. Bulik began following 50,000 Norwegian women at the 18-week gestation mark. After establishing their eating habits before, the women regularly described their eating habits during pregnancy in surveys designed to pick up symptoms of four eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating without purging (BED), and purging without binge eating. While all four of the disorders showed the expected remission patterns, there were 711 new BED cases during pregnancy. A disproportionately high number of these new cases struck women from low socio-economic class.

The economic status of these soon-to-be mothers hints at a possible reason why pregnancy acts as a catalyst for an eating disorder. Bulik speculates that the anxiety of bearing a child combines with economic stress to trigger binge eating. Overeating often serves as a way to gain temporary relief from negative feelings. This tactic does not bring lasting happiness, though health problems linger.

A number of previous studies have drawn attention to the unhealthiness of overeating during pregnancy. Christine Olsen warns that only 30-40% of women stay within the gestational weight gain numbers recommended by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. Much of the excess weight is carried over after pregnancy along with the elevated risk of diabetes and heart disease. Even more dismaying than the problems that mothers bring on themselves are the dangerous complications they create for their children. The children of obese women are around twice as likely to end up in neonatal intensive care units, and a study last year proved that they face higher risks of neural tube defects. These defects are already too common in America, and when they don't cause a miscarriage they can lead to terrible life outcomes like the paralysis of spina bifida.

Bulik's team plans to continue studying the Norwegian mothers to determine how children are affected by extreme eating habits. It is possible that in addition to obvious birth defects, subtle changes take place in the bodies of babies that are fed with wildly fluctuating levels of nutrients. Even if no additional problems are discovered, there is already enough research to justify physicians giving strong warnings to pregnant women about the danger of binge eating. The phrase "eating for two" should be a reminder of the responsibility to avoid dangerous consumption rather than a pass to indulgence.

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