Kristin Heron, research associate at the Survey Research Center, and team found that college-age females who are concerned about their eating behaviors tend to have moods that get worse after episodes of disordered eating.
Disordered eating refers to unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors and binge eating. The person has an unhealthy relationship with food and/or their body, one that undermines their quality of life and may affect their overall physical, mental or emotional health. People involved in disordered eating behaviors might not fit the full criteria of a traditional eating disorder, such as binge-eating disorder, bulimia or anorexia; they are usually within the range of healthy weight and do not exhibit behaviors all the time.
"There was little in the way of mood changes right before the unhealthy eating behaviors," said Heron. "However, negative mood was significantly higher after these behaviors."
Heron explained that individuals with disordered eating patterns may binge eat and lose control over eating and how much food they consume.
The researchers presented their study-findings at the American Psychosomatic Society Conference, Miami, Florida.
The study participants appeared to show little change in mood before an unhealthy eating bout. While disordered eating was followed by worsening moods "a positive mood did not change either before or after any of the behaviors studied by the researchers."
Handheld computers were given to 131 women who were concerned about their weight and body shape. They all had high levels of unhealthy eating, but none of them had an eating disorder.
The handheld computer would prompt the women to answer questions regarding their eating behaviors and moods.
"What we know about mood and eating behaviors comes primarily from studies with eating disorder patients or from laboratory studies. We were interested in studying women in their everyday lives to see whether mood changed before or after they engaged in unhealthy eating and weight control behaviors."
Co-author Joshua Smyth, professor of biobehavioral health, said that their findings may help health care professionals devise more effective treatments for women with eating problems.
Smyth said "This study is unique because it evaluates moods and eating behaviors as they occur in people's daily lives, which can provide a more accurate picture of the relationship between emotions and eating. The results from this study can help us to better understand the role mood may play in the development and maintenance of unhealthy eating, and weight-control behaviors, which could be useful for creating more effective treatment programs for people with eating and weight concerns."
Disordered eating behaviors have been extensively studiedSeveral studies have been carried out on disordered eating, which tends to affect females more than males. Below are some examples:
- Disordered eating affects up to 15% of females - researchers from the Université de Montréal and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Canada, found that between 10 to 15% of adult females may be affected by disordered eating. They reported their findings in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Lead researchers, Lise Gauvin, described the study results as "disquieting".
Women are constantly bombarded with contradictory messages. On the one hand they are told to lose weight, while at the same time being encouraged to eat for the simple pleasure of it.
- Disordered eating in adolescence often carries on into adulthood - teenagers who diet and develop disordered eating behaviors tend to continue with such behaviors when they are adults, researchers from the University of Minnesota reported in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD, said "The findings from the current study argue for early and ongoing efforts aimed at the prevention, early identification, and treatment of disordered eating behaviors in young people. Within clinical practices, dietitians and other health care providers should be asking about the use of these behaviors prior to adolescence, throughout adolescence, and into young adulthood. Given the growing concern about obesity, it is important to let young people know that dieting and disordered eating behaviors can be counterproductive to weight management. Young people concerned about their weight should be provided with support for healthful eating and physical activity behaviors that can be implemented on a long-term basis, and should be steered away from the use of unhealthy weight control practices."
- Anxiety disorders linked to disordered eating risk - Dr Lynne Drummond, a consultant psychiatrist at South West London and St George's NHS Mental Health Trust, England, found that disordered eating is much more common among people with anxiety disorders, compared to the rest of the population.
Doctors and other health care professionals should be aware of this risk. Disordered eating may affect up to one fifth of all patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and one third of those with other anxiety disorders.