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Binge eating often occurs in restaurants in addition to inside the home, according to new University of Texas at Austin nursing study

Contradicting the common perception that binge eating is typically done in private, a University of Texas at Austin nursing researcher says a significant amount of binging occurs in restaurants.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Contradicting the common perception that binge eating is typically done in private, a University of Texas at Austin nursing researcher says a significant amount of binging occurs in restaurants.

Until now little has been known about the restaurant eating habits of those who binge eat—the uncontrolled consumption of large amounts of food without purging.

“Binge eaters are likely to perceive their restaurant eating as uncontrolled and excessive,” said Dr. Gayle Timmerman in the November issue of Western Journal of Nursing Research. “This challenges the notion that binge eating takes place in private, and the findings are consistent with the view that obesity is an environmental issue.”

The trend to eat at restaurants continues to rise with a substantial amount of meals and snacks consumed at restaurants.

“This frequent dining out, along with the consumption of additional calories, could contribute to weight gain over time,” Timmerman said. “We know that generally people consume more calories on the days they eat out.”

Obesity experts continue to search for solutions to the epidemic of obesity, said Timmerman, adding that restaurants are “high-risk food environments that encourage loss of control over eating.”

To understand how the restaurant environment affects binge eaters, and to improve future interventions, the study looked at the eating behaviors of binge eaters—compared to dieters—when dining out.

Dieters were chosen as the comparison group because binge eaters and dieters are likely to engage in similar dieting behaviors. Binge eaters more often perceived their restaurant meals to be uncontrolled. Significantly more calories were consumed on restaurant-eating days as compared to non-restaurant-eating days for both binge eaters and dieters.

The study, funded by a grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research at the National Institutes of Health, asked female binge eaters and dieters to record their daily food intake. The study showed that, not only did both groups consume more calories and fat on days they ate out, but that a third of binges occurred at restaurants.

Timmerman also has conducted research on emotional eating, and is working on another study looking at the differences in eating behaviors of men and women in restaurants. Timmerman decided to look more closely at restaurant eating when she discovered in a previous study that a high percentage of binges were occurring in restaurants. That statistic surprised her.

She says the perception of being out of control and unable to stop eating is a key element of binging. Negative emotions often play a big part in whether someone binges.

She found that bingers with high restaurant use had higher scores on anger and depression. These findings, she said, warrant further research to determine whether different groups have emotional circumstances that contribute to eating out.

Timmerman can be reached at 512-471-9087 or by e-mail at gtimmerman@mail.nur.utexas.edu or gtimmerman@mail.utexas.edu.

For more information contact: Nancy Neff, School of Nursing, 512-471-6504.