Help for Binge Eating Disorder: New Drug Approved by FDA


Vyvanse Approved To Treat Binge Eating Disorder

fda approved drug binge eating disorderVa va voom, here comes Vyvanse, a new drug just approved to treat Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

Vyvanse is a central nervous system stimulant  that was first released in 2007 to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It has now been shown to “help curb binge eating episodes” and decrease the number of binge eating days per week and related obsessive-compulsive binge eating behaviors.

The release of this drug has  made more headlines than when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V),  first named BED a stand-alone eating disorder. The DSM is the bible for mental health diagnoses.

To this end, I am glad that the media, medical doctors and consumers are talking about BED. It’s a largely misunderstood disorder and those who suffer from it lead miserable lives. Anything that captures interest in this eating disorder can’t be a bad thing.

Binge Eating Disorder Drug First Used For ADHD

Much of the discussion is about the return of “speed” for weight loss and all the side effects and potential for abuse, leading to dependence. And yet, the manufacturer Shire states that it was not studied for weight loss nor recommended for weight loss.

What I found more interesting was that the medication was first released to treat ADHD. Those who have worked in the field for some time know that there is a correlate relationship between ADHD and BED. There are a few theories as to why.

Those with BED tend to have some similar characteristics to ADHD:

  • Impulsivity and “delay aversion” which makes the availability of fast food and easy access foods a problem.
    • Those with BED tend to be inattentive toward early signs of hunger, they are too distracted until they are too hungry to wait and tend to overeat when they do eat.
    • Once they start eating, they also have a difficult time stopping when they are satisfied because they tend to “check out” while eating, again in a distractible and sometime dissociative state.
  • Neurobiological mechanisms similar to those with ADHD that show a reward deficiency syndrome and insufficient dopamine.
    • Food can create pleasure, flooding the brain with dopamine, especially when eaten in large quantities within a short period of time.
  • High incidence of depression, agitation and inattention. 
    • Food may be used to self-regulate mood or correct the emotions evoked by the distress caused by the binge eating itself. Binge eating is cyclical, therefore lends itself to the chicken or egg syndrome.

Attention Deficit Trait (a Cousin to ADHD) and Binge Eating Disorder

Another interesting and related correlation I stumbled upon was when reading Dr. Edward Hallowell’s work, called Attention Deficit Trait or ADT. Yes, this is a cousin to ADHD.

Hallowell claims ADT is caused by “brain overload” or over-stimulated circuits. The core symptoms are distractibility, inner frenzy and impatience. He says that it is not uncommon for those who experience this to “self-medicate.”

Hallowell sees this as our brains’ natural response to exploding demands on our time and attention.

  • When our brain is tired, we lack the “executive function” to reason and make good choices.
  • The brain then defaults to the deep centers of the brain that regulate fear and survival.
  • We tend to revert into black-and-white thinking. We forget the big picture, goals and values related to choice.

So, if we put this all together, I just want to say, Of Course! (my personal tag line)

I hope those of you who experience binge eating, especially at night, are feeling validated and a big light bulb went off above your head.

Cognitive Behavioral Interventions For Treating BED

As a Doctor of Behavioral Health, my focus of study is on human behavior and motivational change theory. Dr. Hallowell’s prescription is a holistic approach to healing the brain which includes creating safe, calm spaces and people in our life.

Research also supports the ability of cognitive behavioral interventions for the treatment of BED to significantly reduce binge eating. Those with mindfulness-based components help focus inattentive and dissociative tendencies in order to “pause” and make better choices.

Our program at Green Mountain at Fox Run helps women who binge and emotionally eat by combining the power of choice using mindful awareness with a re-structuring process which can interrupt the famine-and feast cycle by eating predictable and nourishing meals.

Drug May Help Treat BED But Doesn’t Replace Other Types Of Care

As an eating disorder therapist for over two decades, I have had many clients who have entered treatment for their eating disorder while also being medicated for ADHD. Unfortunately, the tendency had been for them to use food to self-medicate the anxiety provoked by the stimulant.

We often see night eating brought on by the inability to calm oneself and get to sleep. Even more tragic, some will turn to benzodiazepines (sedatives) to counter the side effects.

For this reason, I encourage a thoughtful response to the availability of this new medication. As with all medications, there is percentage of those who respond well and are helped, alleviating their suffering.

For others, they may rush to their doctors to get a “magic pill” and end up feeling shameful and discouraged, much like the long-term results of the newest diet.

Ultimately, it can be thought of as a potential “tool in the BED treatment toolbox” that may help some, but  it’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t replace other important aspects of care.

Learn More about Our Binge Eating Program

6 responses to “Help for Binge Eating Disorder: New Drug Approved by FDA”

  1. I’d like to go to my doctor to discuss this. Do you think he’ll know about it? I intend to bring your blog post. Thanks for the post and information!

  2. Hopefully he will. Shire Pharmaceutical representatives have been promoting this strongly. Announcements were made to Medscape, a doctors resource. If not, you can either bring a copy of the blog or ask them to check out Medscape. I would be interested in the response as well.

  3. Matt says:

    I take Adderall for hyperactivity and grew up on Dexedrine so just from that experience, I can fully understand this approach but if you skip a day or two, you’ll eat yourself out of house and home. That was how my mom knew I lied about taking my dexedrine as a kid because I’d live in front of the fridge.

  4. Gina says:

    After battling BED for 20+ years, I finally agreed to the suggestion by my doctor to try Vyvanse (the drug for BED). I was to have 30 mg for one week and then go up to 50 mg, and later 70 mg if needed. What I found was that from the first day on 30 mg, I no longer thought about food. I could focus on other things. I am calmer (even though this is a stimulant) and I can do the things I do without rushing to be finished. I am now horrified to see just how much of my day was spent thinking about food. I had no idea. With the 30 mg working so well, my doctor says there is no need to up the dosage. I fully understand that this drug is not a “cure” – it is a tool that, if used properly, can help me break the binge hamster wheel I have been stuck on. I am in therapy and I am learning to eat without all the stress associated. Will this drug work for everybody? Absolutely not! No drug ever does. However, if you are truly stuck in BED and nothing else has worked, I encourage you to talk to your doctor. It may be the helping hand you need. But it will not “cure” you, or do it all for you. Side effects for me are that I have a dry mouth (but figure drinking all that extra water is probably good for me!) and I sweat more. Given where I have been, and knowing where I may be able to go from here, I embrace these side effects! They are a small price to pay for overcoming this.

    I also want to add that I have done therapy many times, but it didn’t work for me. I needed this extra help

  5. Marie says:

    This is me. Mind blown.
    I will be talking with my dr this week when we discuss my ADHD testing results. ????????

    • Marie
      Behavioral approaches to treat ADHD have also shown to be effective and double as treatment for BED. Things like minimizing distractions and clutter, good sleep hygiene, balancing blood sugar with ( predictable, supportive and mindful meals ) and fun activities like drumming. Interestingly, safe and supportive relationships also improve brain health.
      Take Care.

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About the Author

Kari Anderson, DBH, LCMHC, CEDS

Having struggled with binge eating and weight stigma herself, Kari’s professional career has a personal passion driving it. She has been working with eating disorders for 25 years, with particular emphasis on Binge Eating Disorder. Kari has the unique ability to lead organizational teams and at the same time connect with individuals on a very real and compassionate level. Often referred to as someone who “gets it” by participants, she creates a safe environment. Prior to coming to Green Mountain, she positioned herself as a respected clinician and leader in the field of eating disorders. Having worked for treatment centers such as Remuda Ranch and The Rader Institute, she had the opportunity to help thousands of patients and their families. She earned her Doctorate of Behavioral Health with her research project The Mindful Eating Cycle: Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder at Arizona State University in 2012. Co-creator of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Program, Kari also co-authored the acclaimed book, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating: A Mindful Eating Program for Healing Your Relationship with Food and Your Body. Kari leads the Women’s Center for Binge and Emotional Eating at Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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