Frustration Increases Binge Eating in Adolescent Girls

Binge eating falls on the spectrum of eating disorders not otherwise specified (ED-NOS). People who engage in binge eating behaviors often have difficulty controlling the amount of food they eat and experience consequences that include negative mood states, depression, poor physical health, obesity, guilt, and shame. All of these outcomes can perpetuate the cycle of negative eating behaviors. There has been a wide contribution of research into the area of problem eating, but few studies have examined how frustration over unmet needs can influence eating patterns on a daily basis. In an attempt to look at how satisfaction or frustration of needs fulfillment affects binge eating, Joke Verstuyf of the Department of Developmental, Social, and Personality Psychology at Ghent University in Belgium recently led a study analyzing the attainment of relatedness, competence, and autonomy in a sample of 302 adolescent and young adult women. The women completed daily diaries and reported their eating habits as well as their feelings of satisfaction or frustration related to their needs. They also described their level of emotions so that emotional eating could be included in the analysis.

Verstuyf found that all of the participants experienced increases in binge eating on the days that they expressed frustration with the fulfillment of their needs. More specifically, when the women felt as if they were not part of their social networks, were not demonstrating self-control, and were not autonomous, they engaged in more binge eating. However, this was only exhibited on a daily basis. In other words, frustrated moods one day did not directly predict maladaptive eating on the next day. Verstuyf believes that women who experience chronic frustration may have fewer emotional resources with which to control their bad eating habits, which can result in an indirect relationship between needs frustration and binge eating over time. This was especially evident in the women who reported using binge eating as a way to cope with emotional stress. Verstuyf believes that these results can be useful to clinicians by underscoring the importance of identifying personal needs and by pointing out the usefulness of examining eating patterns as they occur with relation to emotional states. Verstuyf added, “Finally, our study suggests that it would be useful to target emotional eaters, as these adolescents in particular tend to lose control over eating on need frustrating days.”

Verstuyf, Joke, Maarten Vansteenkiste, Bart Soenens, Liesbet Boone, and Athanasios Mouratidis. Daily ups and downs in women’s binge eating symptoms: The role of basic psychological needs, general self-control, and emotional eating. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 32.3 (2013): 335-61. Print.

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  • kendall


    March 13th, 2013 at 3:45 AM

    Hasn’t every woman out there been in this kind of place?
    Just because you choose to medicate your emotions with food on one day does not mean that you will ever do that again and I don’t think that it necessarily qualifies you as a binge eater either.
    I think that most of us have better coping skills than that, but you can’t tell me that just about everyone has had those days when the only thing that makes you feel better is a little comfort food and a cry.

  • Sleepless In Newcastle

    Sleepless In Newcastle

    March 14th, 2013 at 2:37 AM

    It is true that people do eat emotionally but when you are suffering from an eating disorder such as Binge Eating Disorder (I know because I have it and I am a man as well!) it is the loss of control during the binge episode that is the uncontrollable side of it. When you have a binge episode your emotions and feelings aren’t a major part of it until AFTER you eat the food.
    That is why there is a big difference between eating food for comfort and an actual eating disorder which is out of all reasonable control

  • Martha davis

    Martha davis

    March 14th, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    So our job needs to be more about giving these girls a different way to cope with stress and frustration. The hard thing is that a lot of this kind of behavior as we know has been learned by watching the other significant people in their lives and seeing how they also deal with life. If they see their parents doing this and finding comfort in food, then it is safe to assuume that the children are going to try the same thing, and then you get into this viscios cycle that becomes very difficult for many to break out of.

  • cindy


    March 14th, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    I know EXACTLY how this feels! struggling with binging is one thing but when plans don’t convert into actions when it comes to controlling it can open the doorway to a slide to the bottom. there have been times when I would do so much and avoid the binge eating for days and one fine day I’m unable to resist and the frustration just makes it even worse. I feel like a nicotine addict sometimes. maybe our brain mechanisms aren’t really that different?

  • Oliver


    March 15th, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    I have no way to understand how this must feel, but I can’t imagine that binge eating would in any way comfort me, would just make me feel sick.

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