Eating issues are exhibited through a number of behaviors, including—but not limited to—binge eating (BE) and purging. Some people who have challenges with eating and food issues engage in binging or purging alone, while others engage in both. Regardless of how the food issue manifests itself, the consequences can be significant. These maladaptive behaviors can lead to serious mental and physical health problems, such as anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia (BN). Psychologists have long believed there is a link between affect and eating problems, but have not fully explored the affective cues that could precede and follow episodes of unhealthy eating behaviors. To address this, Kelly C. Berg of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota recently led a study that assessed the moods of 133 women with BN.
For her study, Berg instructed the women to complete surveys documenting their levels of hostility, guilt, fear, and sadness over a two-week period. She then analyzed how these emotions fluctuated before and after binging, purging, or binging/purging episodes. Berg discovered that the levels of negative emotions studied increased prior to all three types of negative eating behaviors, with one exception. The women did not report increases in hostility prior to engaging in maladaptive behaviors. After episodes of binging, purging, or binging/purging, the increases in negative mood subsided. The findings also revealed that the highest increases were found on measures of guilt before episodes of maladaptive behavior. Similarly, guilt accounted for the largest decreases in negative affect after maladaptive eating behaviors.
Berg points out that these results were obtained through evaluation of self-reports and that clinical assessment tools were not used in this study. Additionally, because the participants were adult women, these findings do not provide insight into how these four emotional states relate to disordered eating in young adult and adolescent females. Despite these limitations, Berg believes that the results of this study are clinically important. “In summary, these data provide additional support for the affect regulation model and suggest that guilt may be particularly important to the pathology of BN,” she said.
Berg, K. C., Crosby, R. D., Cao, L., Peterson, C. B., Engel, S. G., Mitchell, J. E., Wonderlich, S. A. (2012). Facets of negative affect prior to and following binge-only, purge-only, and binge/purge events in women with bulimia nervosa. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029703
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