Why you shouldn’t blame yourself for binge eating

Why you shouldn’t blame yourself for binge eating
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By Roberto A. Ferdman June 3 at 12:50 PM

Most people tend to react similarly to depression. When they feel down, they lose interest in doing things and enjoying them. The tendency is so prevalent that lack of interest—in people, outings, and even food—is recognized as one of the five clinical signs of depression. “When people are feeling depressed, they end up withdrawing, becoming more internal, becoming more lethargic,” said Kelly Klump, who teaches psychology at Michigan State University.

But there also exists a subset of people who tend to exhibit a different reaction. For these people, depression breeds high levels of impulsivity. They do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Like opening a pint of ice cream, and polishing it off.

That psychological quirk — the tendency to become more impulsive when feeling less good — is often referred to as “negative urgency.” It’s actually considered by some experts to be a specific biological trait in people, just like alcoholism have been found to be the extension of specific biological impulses. As a result, people who exhibit negative urgency, turning to binge eating when they’re depressed, are not merely demonstrating a lack of willpower or an ordinary mood swing.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that a single episode of binge eating means someone is showing signs of clinical depression. Rather, it suggests that depression and binge eating have a deep, biological relationship that might explain why some of us will finish the box of Oreos after a tough day of work and others will be satisfied by a single cookie.

“For the longest time, people thought that impulsivity is what was linked to binge eating,” Klump said. “The thinking was that people who binge ate did so simply because they were impulsive. But it’s actually a lot more specific than that. It’s not really people who are impulsive so much as people who become impulsive when they are depressed.”

New research by Klump, along with Sarah Racine, who teaches psychology at Ohio University, shows how interwoven this tendency towards impulsivity and a proclivity for binge eating really are. Their latest study, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, furthers Racine’s conviction that “negative urgency” might be the single largest predictor of who is and isn’t prone to binge eating.

Klump and Racine, along with five other researchers, tested the association by dividing over 600 women into four groups. In three of the groups, the participants exhibited some form of binge eating—a tendency to eat too much, a tendency to feel as though one’s eating is out of one’s control, or both. In the fourth, participants had no history of binge eating whatsoever. The researchers also, though a questionnaire, gauged the relative level of negative urgency–that is, the likelihood of becoming impulsive when down of the women in each group.

Posted by Louis Sheehan

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