New research at Michigan State University says that people who act impulsively in response to negative emotions are at greater risk of binge eating. The paper, which appears in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, is described in Futurity.org by Kim Ward.
"It's human nature to want to turn to something for comfort after a bad day, but what our research found is that the tendency to act rashly when faced with negative emotions is a personality trait that can lead to binge eating," says senior author Kelly Klump, professor of psychology at Michigan State University.
Other authors came from Florida State University, Michigan State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of Virginia. The National Institute of Mental Health funded the work (http://feedly.com/i/subscription/feed/http://www.futurity.org/feed/)
The Mayo Clinic Staff defines binge-eating disorder as "a serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food and feel unable to stop eating." According to the Mayo Clinic, "almost everyone overeats on occasion, such as having seconds or thirds of a holiday meal. But for some people, excessive overeating that feels out of control and becomes a regular occurrence crosses the line to binge-eating disorder. When you have binge-eating disorder, you may be embarrassed about overeating and vow to stop. But you feel such a compulsion that you can't resist the urges and continue binge eating. If you have binge-eating disorder, treatment can help" (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/binge-eating-disorder/basics/definition/con-20033155).
The Michigan State team defines binge eating as "the uncontrollable consumption of a large amount of food in a short period of time." Klump and her colleagues interviewed 612 female twins, of whom 14 percent reported binge eating, overeating (consumption of a large amount of food without a loss of control) or loss of control over eating (difficulty controlling one's consumption of even a small amount of food). They reasoned that people exhibiting these eating issues usually had higher levels of "negative urgency," or a propensity to act impulsively when feeling negative emotions, than people who did not exhibit "pathological eating."
In addition, being impulsive when upset is not limited to those who engage in binge eating. "Both overeating and feeling out of control when eating small or normal amounts of food were related to rash action when experiencing negative emotions," says Sarah Racine, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio University and lead author of the study.
While negative urgency was considered to be high in those people who set out to overeat and those who lose control when eating, Racine thinks there could be different factors at work for these two types of problem eating. As she explains, "It is possible that relationships between binge eating and negative urgency reflect impairments in behavioral control over eating when upset. Overeating may instead represent increased sensitivity to rewarding effects of food in the context of negative emotions."
Klump believes that this research has important implications for treatment. "If we can treat the underlying tendency to jump to eating when feeling negative emotions like stress, we may be able to help thousands of individuals who suffer from a range of eating disorders," she says.