Food

Who is most at risk for engaging in binge eating, or compulsive overeating?

Two articles published in the January edition of the journal Eating Behaviors are shedding light on this question.

The first, by researchers from Canada, homes in on the link between binge eating and perfectionism. Previous research has suggested a connection between the two, but it hasn’t been clear which way the causation goes: does being perfectionistic make people more likely to binge eat, or do people become more perfectionistic in response to binge eating?

If the former sounds more plausible to you, you’re right!

The study, which followed 200 undergraduate women for a month, showed that having more perfectionistic concerns predisposes people to binge eating. However, the opposite is not true – binge eating does not increase people’s perfectionistic concerns.

This result indicates that perfectionism, and in particular “negative” perfectionism – being self-critical, obsessing over mistakes, etc. – can put people at risk for binge eating.

The second study published identified another factor that might make people more susceptible to compulsive overeating: certain patterns in the way people think about food.

One of these patterns has to do with what psychologists call desire thinking. Desire thinking is related to craving. As the name suggests, it involves thinking about and imagining something you want. It has been linked to addiction and compulsive behaviors.

In this case, the researchers found that desire thinking about food is related to binge eating. People who engage in more food desire thinking are more likely to engage in binge eating.

A second thought pattern, food thought suppression, also ups people’s risk. Once again, the name tells most of the story: food thought suppression means intentionally avoiding thoughts about food.

Together, these studies point to several ways people’s thought patterns and attitudes predict compulsive overeating. Some of the patterns that put people at risk (food desire thinking and food thought suppression) have to do with food specifically, while others (perfectionistic concerns) have to do with how people go through life more generally. In all cases, though, understanding these risk factors for binge eating should make it easier for professionals to recognize and treat binge eating.

Image: Flickr/Sebastian Mary