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Keywords:

  • stress responsivity;
  • central fat;
  • waist to hip ratio (WHR);
  • eating disorder;
  • obesity

Abstract: Stress is the most commonly reported trigger of binge eating, and high cortisol levels are positively related to both central body fat and food intake after laboratory stress. We therefore examined waist circumference (WHR) and cortisol stress responsivity after a cold pressor stress test (CPT) in 22 obese (BMI > 27) women (11 BED, 11 non-BED). BMI and WHR did not differ between groups. The BED group had higher morning basal cortisol than the non-BED group (P= .03) and greater AUC cortisol after CPT, after controlling for AUC insulin (P= .04). In the BED group, WHR was related to AUC cortisol (P= .002) and peak cortisol stress responsivity (P= .003). Twenty (10 non-BED, 10 BED) were randomized to a 6-week treatment program (CBT + Diet) or Wait-List (WL) control group. There were no BED group or treatment-group differences in WHR, morning basal cortisol, or AUC cortisol after CPT. The relationship between WHR and both AUC cortisol (P= .002) and peak cortisol stress responsivity after CPT (P= .008) remained significant in the BED group. In BED, there is a hyperactive HPA axis related to abdominal obesity that persists even after treatment, suggesting that cortisol might be a primary factor in the disorder.