A new study has shown that women with apple-shaped bodies, those who store more fat in their trunk and abdominal regions, may be at particular risk when it comes to eating episodes during which they experience a sense of “loss of control”.
The research, conducted at Drexel University, found that women who have greater fat stores in their midsections are less satisfied with their bodies, a factor that may contribute to loss-of-control eating. Examination of Central Body Fat Deposition as a Risk Factor for Loss-of-Control Eating has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It is the first investigation on the connections between fat distribution, body image perception and the development of disordered eating.
How does one define loss-of-control eating? Experts say that feeling driven or compelled to keep eating or finding it tough to stop after one has started eating signifies a loss of control.
Lead author Dr. Laura Berner said this loss of control is the most significant element of binge-eating episodes, no matter how much food is consumed.
The findings indicate that storage of body fat in the trunk and abdominal regions, rather than elsewhere in the body, is strongly predictive of loss-of-control eating development and worsening over time. Larger percentages of fat stored in central regions and body dissatisfaction may serve as maintenance or exacerbation for loss-of-control eating.
Berner said the sense of loss of control is experienced across a range of eating disorder diagnoses such as bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and the binge-eating/purging subtype of anorexia nervosa.
She wanted to find out if a measurable biological characteristic could help predict who goes on to develop this feeling as her research showed that “individuals who feel a sense of loss of control over eating but don’t yet have an eating disorder are more likely to develop one.”
Early detection of an eating disorder like this and subsequent treatment are more likely to be successful.
Berner said her research 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 beneficial for preventing eating disorders”.
Using a large dataset that followed female college freshman for two years, the researchers preliminarily investigated whether body fat distribution is linked to body dissatisfaction over time and increases the risk for the development or worsening of loss-of-control eating.
The nearly 300 young adult women completed assessments at baseline, six months and 24 months, that looked at height, weight and total body fat percentage and where it’s distributed. Participants, none of whom met the diagnostic criteria for eating disorders at the start of the study, were assessed for disordered eating behaviors through standardized clinical interviews in which experiences of a sense of loss of control were self-reported.
The researchers found that women with greater central fat stores, independent of total body mass and depression levels, were more likely to develop loss-of-control eating and demonstrated steadier increases in loss-of-control eating episode frequency over time. Women with a larger percentage of their body fat stored in the trunk region were also less satisfied with their bodies, regardless of their total weight or depression level.
“The results suggest that centralized fat deposition increased disordered eating risk above and beyond other known risk factors,” said Berner. “The specificity of our findings to centralized fat deposition was also surprising. For example, a one-unit increase in the percentage of body fat stored in the abdominal region was associated with a 53 percent increase in the risk of developing loss-of-control eating over the next two years, whereas total percentage body fat did not predict loss-of-control eating development.”
According to Berner, more research is needed to explain the mechanism behind these findings, though she speculates that there are a number of reasons why this might happen.