Objective: Binge eating disorder (BED) is positively associated with obesity and psychological distress, yet the behavioral features of BED that drive these associations are largely unexplored. The primary aim of this study was to investigate which core behavioral features of binge eating are most strongly related to psychological disturbance.
Methods and Procedures: A cross-sectional study involved 180 bariatric surgery candidates, 93 members of a non-surgical weight loss support group, and 158 general community respondents (81 men/350 women, mean age 45.8 ± 13.3, mean BMI 34.8 ± 10.8, BMI range 17.7–66.7). Validated questionnaires assessed BED and binge eating, symptoms of depression, appearance dissatisfaction (AD), quality of life (QoL) and eating-related behaviors. Features of binge eating were confirmed by interview. BMI was determined by clinical assessment and self-report.
Results: The loss of control (LOC) over eating, that is, being unable to stop eating or control what or how much was consumed was most closely related to psychological markers of distress common in BED. In particular, those who experienced severe emotional disturbance due to feelings of LOC reported higher symptoms of depression (P < 0.001), AD (P = 0.009), and poorer mental health–related QoL (P = 0.027).
Discussion: Persons who report subjective binge episodes or do not meet BED frequency criteria for objective binge episodes may still be at elevated risk of psychological disturbance and benefit from clinical intervention. Feelings of LOC could drive binge eaters to seek bariatric surgery in an attempt to gain control over body weight and psychologically disturbing eating behavior.