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Does an Apple Shaped Body Mean a Higher Chance of Binge Eating Disorder?

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In a new study from Drexel University, females with an apple-shaped body, who have a higher percentage of stored fat in their trunks and abdominal area, could be at a greater risk for developing an eating disorder. Researchers also discovered that women with greater fat stores in these areas reported feeling less satisfied with their bodies, which could directly contribute to loss-of-control eating.

Study Findings

This study marks the very first time that there has been a connection between body fat distribution, negative body image and the development of an eating disorder.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Laura Berner, PhD, said, “Eating disorders that are detected early are much more likely to be successfully treated. Although existing eating disorder risk models comprehensively address psychological factors, we know of very few biologically-based factors that help us predict who may be more likely to develop eating disorder behaviors.”

She further went on to state, “Our preliminary findings reveal that centralized fat distribution may be an important risk factor for the development of eating disturbance, specifically for loss-of-control eating. This suggests that targeting individuals who store more of their fat in the midsection and adapting psychological interventions to focus specifically on body fat distribution could be for preventing eating disorders.”

The results of the study entitled “Examination of Central Body Fat Deposition as a Risk Factor for Loss-of-Control Eating,” was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

There is a plethora of evidence which suggests that experiencing a sense of loss-of-control during eating, feeling driven or compelled to continue eating or stopping is very difficult. The inability to stop eating is the most significant element of binge-eating episodes, regardless of how much food a person has eaten.

Dr. Berner went on to state, “This sense of loss of control is experienced across a range of eating disorder diagnoses: bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and the binge-eating/purging subtype of anorexia nervosa. We wanted to see if a measurable biological characteristic could help predict who goes on to develop this feeling, as research shows that individuals who feel this sense of loss of control over eating but don’t yet have an eating disorder, are more likely to develop one.”

Parameters of the Study

Using a large database that tracked female college freshmen for two years, the team of researchers investigated whether body fat distribution is linked to negative body image over time and increases the risk for the development of or worsening of an eating disorder.

About 300 women completed the initial assessment and did it again later, at 6 months and two years. The assessment looked at height, weight and overall body fat percentage and checked where it is distributed. The female participants, none of whom met the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder at the start of the study, were evaluated for harmful eating behaviors through standardized clinical interviews. In these interviews, the women described experiences of sense of loss of control.

The findings of the study indicated that the storage of body fat in the upper trunk and abdominal regions, rather than elsewhere in the body, is more strongly indicative of loss of control eating development and worsening over time. Women who had a larger percentage of body fat in these areas, reported less body satisfaction and a higher level of depression.

Results of the Study

Dr. Berner believes more research is needed to explain the reasons behind these findings, though she thinks there are a number of reasons as to why this could occur.