This study measured total energy expenditure (TEE) in symptomatic outpatient women with bulimia nervosa and normal controls. The study aimed to test the conceptual model of bulimia nervosa as an illness characterized by a physiological state of starvation, despite normal weight.
Total fat and fat-free mass were measured using hydrodensitometry and total energy expenditure was assessed via the doubly-labeled water method, in nine normal weight outpatient females with DSM-III-R bulimia nervosa and ten healthy female controls.
Patients and controls were similar in age, body mass index, weight, lean body mass, and levels of exercise and general activity. Patients had an average baseline binge frequency of 14.7 episodes per week and purge frequency of 16.8 times per week, and had been ill for an average of 11.9 years. Group mean TEE did not differ between patients and controls (patients 2380 ± 482 kcal/day, controls 2368 ± 515 kcal day). Observed TEE in the bulimic subjects did not differ significantly from TEE predicted on the basis of data from the controls.
This finding of normal TEE in symptomatic outpatients with bulimia nervosa is consistent with a previous study that found no difference in TEE in a sample of symptomatic inpatients with bulimia nervosa. These data suggest that the energy conserving metabolic adaptations characteristic of semi-starvation do not occur in patients with bulimia nervosa. © 2001 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 29: 470–476, 2001.