Stressful Events and Binge Eating Disorder

Stress related to family members and recent bereavement were potent forces among BED patients.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
September/October Volume 25, Number 5
©2014 iaedp

Studies examining possible risk factors for BED have shown that potential psychiatric problems, childhood obesity, and critical comments about shape, weight, and eating, can significantly increase the risk of developing BED (Psychol Med 2005; 35:907).

Researchers in Italy recently examined the relationship between stressful life events and development of BED. Dr. Daniela Degortes and colleagues at the University of Padua were especially interested in this relationship because alterations in appetite regulation due to stress may increase body-related worries and influence the ability to cope with such difficulties.

Dr. Degortes and co-workers interviewed 107 patients with BED who were consecutively referred to the outpatient eating disorders unit in Padua and 107 patients with bulimia nervosa (BN); duration of illness was equivalent in the two groups. All participants in the study completed the eating disorders module of the SCID, plus the Hopkins Symptom Checklist and the Eating Disorder Inventory. During the interview, the patients were asked about 27 stressful life events, including loss, separations, legal problems, bereavement, miscarriages, and changes at home and work, among others.

BED patients reported more stressful events

The average total number of stressful events did not differ between BED and BN, although there was a trend toward more traumatic experiences in the BED group. There was no difference between obese and non-obese patients with BED in the number of stressful events recalled as preceding the onset of their eating disorder. Obese BED patients reported a higher rate of lifetime sexual abuse (28% vs 8%, respectively) and a trend toward a higher rate of childhood abuse (24% vs. 8%, respectively).

The study’s results highlight the association between the number of stressful events and the severity of psychopathology, especially psychiatric symptoms. The authors suggest that further study of the impact of stressful events upon the development of BED is not only important for understanding the etiology of BED but also for guiding treatment development.

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