Link Between Certain Types of Abuse in Childhood and Binge Eating Disorder Severity


A recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggests a link between the severity of symptoms in binge eating disorder (BED) and being abused sexually or emotionally as a child. These particular individuals are likely to have a greater degree of depressive symptoms and dissatisfaction with their bodies.

BED is a relatively new disorder that affects about 4 million Americans. The disorder involves frequently consuming large quantities of food in a short amount of time. People with this disorder binge even if they are not hungry, and typically feel they cannot control their binging. They also often feel anxious and / or depressed, and experience disgust with regards to their binging behavior. Unlike bulimia, people with BED don’t purge, exercise excessively or use laxatives to offset the effects of a binge. And unlike those who compulsively overeat, they don’t usually fantasize about food.

The study was led by David Dunkley, a psychologist at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital. There were 170 participants, all diagnosed with BED. Those with a history of physical abuse or any type of neglect did not experience the severity of body dissatisfaction and depression observed in those with a history of sexual and emotional abuse. The latter type of abuse often fosters self-criticism, which seems to be a key factor in the development of significant dissatisfaction with one’s body.

Dunkley recommended that therapists treating BED individuals who were sexually or emotionally abused as children (or who they suspect were) particularly focus on their tendency to be very critical of themselves.

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