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J Consult Clin Psychol. 2011 Aug;79(4):509-14. doi: 10.1037/a0024259.

A controlled evaluation of the distress criterion for binge eating disorder.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06519, USA.



Research has examined various aspects of the validity of the research criteria for binge eating disorder (BED) but has yet to evaluate the utility of Criterion C, "marked distress about binge eating." This study examined the significance of the marked distress criterion for BED using 2 complementary comparison groups.


A total of 1,075 community volunteers completed a battery of self-report instruments as part of an Internet study. Analyses compared body mass index (BMI), eating-disorder psychopathology, and depressive levels in 4 groups: 97 participants with BED except for the distress criterion (BED-ND), 221 participants with BED including the distress criterion (BED), 79 participants with bulimia nervosa (BN), and 489 obese participants without binge eating or purging (NBPO). Parallel analyses compared these study groups using the broadened frequency criterion (i.e., once weekly for binge/purge behaviors) proposed for the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and the 4th edition (DSM-IV) twice-weekly frequency criterion.


The BED group had significantly greater eating-disorder psychopathology and depressive levels than the BED-ND group. The BED group, but not the BED-ND group, had significantly greater eating-disorder psychopathology than the NBPO comparison group. The BN group had significantly greater eating-disorder psychopathology and depressive levels than all 3 other groups. The group differences in eating-disorder psychopathology existed even after controlling for depression levels, BMI, and demographic variables, although some differences between the BN and BED groups were attenuated when controlling for depression levels.


These findings provide support for the validity of the "marked distress" criterion for the diagnosis of BED.

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