Teasing Plays Role in Binge Eating Disorder

Teasing people about their general appearance, more so than making fun of their weight and size, may play a role in binge eating disorder, a study by Yale researchers shows.

“What we discovered from interviewing women with binge eating disorder is that teasing about general appearance was related to current weight concern and body dissatisfaction, not teasing about weight and size,” said Tamara Jackson, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. “Examples of general appearance teasing include being called funny looking, being teased about the way you dress, about having funny teeth - anything about overall appearance. This type of teasing was compared with teasing specifically about weight and size, for example, being called fat, overweight, snickering from your peers because of your size.”

The findings published in the journal of Obesity Research were made during an ongoing clinical trial looking at treatments for binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder was characterized as eating an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time; experiencing a loss of control over what the person was eating and the quantity; and the absence of any extreme weight control behaviors such as vomiting, use of laxatives, use of diuretics, and excessive exercise.

Although men and women with binge eating disorder were enrolled in the trial, the study on teasing included only women – 115 subjects ages 21 to 61. Jackson with Carlos Grilo, associate professor of psychiatry, and Robin Masheb, associate research scientist, conducted the study.

The researchers asked each of the women about teasing they had been subjected to before the age of 18, eating and weight problems, concerns about weight and shape, body dissatisfaction, depression and self-esteem. Although teasing about general appearance was more related to binge eating disorder, combined teasing about general appearance and weight and size were related to depression and low self esteem. The researchers also found, contrary to other studies, that earlier onset of obesity did not necessarily lead to a greater severity of eating problems as adults.

Jackson said the study might be useful to clinicians treating persons with binge eating disorder because it highlights the importance of experiences that might not otherwise be considered. “It could give some insight into some of the thoughts that people have and some of the negative self evaluations that they have,” she said.

Although the researchers said they could not address the question of how teasing might contribute to the development of binge eating disorder, they did speculate that teasing or being made fun of could influence attitudes that people develop about themselves, their bodies and their body image.

“Such negative experiences may influence self-esteem and confidence and thereby make those people who were teased more vulnerable to eating and dieting problems,” Jackson said.

These researchers are currently conducting two treatment studies for obesity and binge eating at the Yale School of Medicine. These studies are funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Donaghue Medical Research Foundation. Anyone interested in finding out more about these treatments can call 203-785-5425. Eligible persons receive free evaluations and treatment at no charge.

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