Research Associates Impulsivity With Binge Eating

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A new study suggests people who show high levels of impulsivity are likely to binge eat when experiencing negative feelings.

binge eatingAccording to the report published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, impulsive people may be more likely to overeat when upset because the individual is seeking the rewarding effects of food.

“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,” said Kelly Klump, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University and senior author of the paper.

Klump and colleagues interviewed 612 female twins, 14% of which had issues with binge eating, overeating (consumption of excessive amounts of food without loss of control), or loss of control over eating (difficulty controlling one’s consumption of even small amounts of food).

According to the researchers, individuals with these eating issues generally showed heightened levels of ‘negative urgency’ or a tendency to act impulsively as a reaction to experiencing negative emotions, than those who did not experience pathological eating issues.

Sarah Racine, an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio University and lead author on the research, points out it is not just those who have issues with binge eating who act impulsively when upset.

“Both overeating and feeling out of control when eating small or normal amounts of food were related to rash action when experiencing negative emotions,” said Racine.

While negative urgency was uniquely high in those who lose control when eating and those who overeat, the researchers believe there are likely two different factors contributing to these two forms of problem eating.

“It is possible that relationships between binge eating and negative urgency reflect impairments in behavioral control over eating when upset,” said Racine. “Overeating may instead represent increased sensitivity to rewarding effects of food in the context of negative emotions.”

Klump concluded by saying the team is hopeful the study may have 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.”

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