When most people binge eat, they do so alone and feelings of shame often preclude them from talking openly about it. This makes it difficult for the average person to get a sense of how their binge eating might compare to others. A new research study sought to pinpoint what a typical binge eating episode is like in terms of how long it lasts and when it usually happens.
Released online in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the study looks specifically at adults suffering from binge eating disorder. One of the issues with assessing binge eating episodes is relying on people to accurately remember what each episode was like for them. Given that a defining characteristic of binge eating is feeling a loss of control, it’s easy to imagine why people might feel like their binge eating episode was a blur.
In order to deal that issue, the researchers assessed binge eating in two ways. They interviewed adults who were part of a therapy treatment study asking them to describe their binge eating from the last month. In addition, they asked a small and independent group of adults to carry a handheld computer for two weeks and record information about binge eating as close to each episode as possible – a much stronger way of assessing binge eating.
Adults in the first group, who were part of the treatment study, were divided into two sets based on how long they reported binge eating episodes. Most people reported binge eating for less than two hours at a time (113 people) while others (22 people) reported binge eating for longer. Among the less-than-two-hour set, the average binge session lasted 64minutes. For people who reported binge eating over two hours at a time, the average binge session lasted 217 minutes. These people also reported greater symptoms of depression. The results here have to be interpreted cautiously, however, because of the nature of how this group was asked to recall past binge eating.
What about the adults who were asked to record binge eating electronically in real time? Their average binge eating session lasted 42minutes. This group also reported an average of about 9 episodes of binge eating per week, which occurred mostly on weekdays (vs weekends) and mostly in the early afternoon or evening hours.
One important factor to consider with binge eating is timing between each episode. The researchers couldn’t really differentiate between people who reported a 3 hour binge eating session and meant they actually ate continuously for that time versus those who meant that they were binge eating off and on throughout that period.
How does a binge eating episode that occurs on a weekday evening and lasts about 45minutes compare to what you’ve experienced or seen?
Dr. Gupta is a professor at Barnard College of Columbia University and provides individual therapy at Tribeca Psychology
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