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Compr Psychiatry. 2012 Apr;53(3):245-51. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2011.04.062. Epub 2011 May 26.

Emotional eating in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

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Psychiatric Unit, Department of Neuropsychiatric Sciences, Florence University School of Medicine, 50134 Firenze, Italy.



The relationship between emotional states and eating behaviors is complex, and emotional eating has been identified as a possible factor triggering binge eating in bulimia nervosa (BN) and binge eating disorder. Few studies considered emotional eating in patients with anorexia nervosa.


The present study evaluated the clinical correlates of emotional eating in 251 eating-disordered (EDs) subjects (70 AN restricting type, 71 AN binge eating/purging type, 110 BN purging type) and in a group of 89 healthy control subjects. Subjects were assessed by means of a clinical interview (Structured Clinical Interview for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) and several self-reported questionnaires, including the Emotional Eating Scale (EES).


No significant differences were found between the 3 EDs groups in terms of EES total score, and all patients with ED showed higher EES scores compared with control subjects. Emotional eating was associated with subjective binge eating in AN binge eating/purging type and with objective binge eating in patients with BN. Among patients with AN restricting type, emotional eating was associated with restraint, but this association was lost when controlling for fear of loss of control over eating, which was the principal determinant of restraint.


Emotional eating and fear of loss of control over eating are significantly associated with specific eating attitudes and behaviors, according to the different diagnoses. Emotional eating is a relevant psychopathologic dimension that deserves a careful investigation in both anorectic and bulimic patients.

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